Redefining Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Saleema Vellani explores the entrepreneurial mindset and considers how the future landscape of personal exploration, employment and industry will require ubiquitous innovation skills of new graduates and business leaders alike

In January 2020, the World Economic Forum kicked off the Reskilling Revolution Platform with the aim of retooling one billion people over the next ten years with skills appropriate for the era. Automation and advanced AI will render certain skill sets obsolete but the acceleration of human creativity, teamwork and ingenuity will remain vital.

The twelve months that followed the launch demonstrated that something more than reskilling would be required; we need reinvention. We are indeed in a Reinvention Revolution, where the need for innovative skills and entrepreneurial mindsets have come sharply into focus.

Enterprising and innovation competencies are no longer just for entrepreneurs, business owners, or siloed innovation labs in the workplace. They are critical for the whole team, for graduates fresh from university, for government and for business leaders alike, and for professional and personal development. They underpin our development personally and societally and will continue to gain importance as time goes on.

The Impact of Innovation on the Individual Journey

Compare the opportunities recent and future graduates are mulling over versus those of their parents or indeed grandparents. The working world has changed entirely from a ‘clock-in, clock-out’ role where the next 20 years of one’s career are already predetermined. Job seekers are purpose-driven to find an accurate representation of their personal mission, beliefs and values.

They are motivated to work for causes in line with their views as per Dan Pink’s intrinsic motivation of “Purpose”. People entering the employment market are beginning to prioritise their passions and delving into the entrepreneurial mindset to do so.

Innovation isn’t just about ideas and technology. It’s about being human

As innovation is being redefined as increasingly human, entrepreneurship also needs redefining. In the new type of entrepreneurship that has emerged, it’s no longer a matter of quitting a nine-to-five job and setting up a shop in one’s parents’ garage. Entrepreneurship was trendy in the first couple of decades of the twenty-first century, but it is now a way of being. Our personal and work lives are increasingly intertwined, and compartmentalisation is becoming less common.

The way our world has evolved enables us to express our individual selves more authentically than ever before. The complex challenges of the world have also been a catalyst for us to become the change-makers. That much could not have been any clearer over the past 12 months.

The Necessity of Innovation in Employment

The most significant economic variable of the past year – indeed several years – has been change. Those who have responded, been affected or pivoted in response to change have succeeded. The future of employment is not hampered by the same slow rates of change and barriers to entrepreneurship as has traditionally been the case.

It is now easier, faster and more accessible than ever to become an entrepreneur in the digital age. This means industry disruption will remain a consistent part of the employment landscape now and for the foreseeable future.

Industry disruption and change are the norm for the future and the demand for innovative skills, whether from employees or entrepreneurs, will continue rising. With the industry reshuffling afoot, existing and future companies will scramble to strengthen responsive and pre-emptive innovation and those who are proactively adept at innovating will best future-proof their position.

Oddly, the most significant condition affecting the deployment of team innovation skills was first pioneered in 1999 by Amy Edmondson, yet it was only in 2012, with Google’s Project Aristotle, that this quality was truly appreciated.

Psychological safety refers to the human aspect of leading teams. It means creating safety from embarrassment and social risk for team members to speak up, contribute ideas, admit mistakes and offer open and honest thoughts. Humanising the process and creating a foundation of safety offers the key to cultivating innovation in the workforce.

How do you find your Innovative ‘Sweet Spot’?

Having captured the views of 100 different innovative leaders and entrepreneurs in 25 countries and pursuing multiple entrepreneurial ventures of my own, it is obvious to me that innovation in your personal journey supersedes any traditional definition. It frames your entire entity and philosophy. As we move towards a future where diversity in cultures and industry expand, taking your place in the world and ‘Finding your Sweet Spot’ is emerging as a salient skill.

Some people believe their sweet spot to be obvious, based on what they’ve done and how they see themselves. They spend time trying to ‘find their passion’ or figure out their optimal career path before really diving in. Unfortunately, this approach routinely leaves us feeling more stuck than we originally were.

One exercise that progressed my process was asking my closest friends and colleagues how they saw me, how I showed up, my greatest strengths, and my greatest weaknesses. This exercise challenged my perspective with unbiased, unfettered honesty.

The best way to find your sweet spot is to start adding value to others’ lives wherever you can. When you have done this, spend time sifting through the results to deduce where you performed best and derived the most satisfaction. Consider your life and career as a series of projects; not a series of jobs.

Map out the projects you’ve executed or contributed to. Which did you excel at the most? Which garnered you the most positive feedback? Which ones did you absolutely enjoy and would even do for free? Fill in these quadrants first, and reflect on them.

Your sweet spot isn’t just discovered. It’s developed

Furthermore, what ideas have you considered experimenting with that are likely out of your comfort zone? For example, have you thought of starting a blog or podcast? Have you wanted to write a book or do more public speaking?

If nothing easily comes to mind, or if you don’t have any specific ideas on the back burner, then ask friends and colleagues what types of projects or activities they think of when they think of you. If you’re comfortable with it, fill out the quadrants and share them with others to give them some context as to what you’ve already done in a snapshot.

Unlocking your self-awareness, curiosity and personal story-telling skills may unearth multiple sweet spots for you to not only engage but also develop. As you begin to advance and explore your sweet spot, you begin to experience a state of flow as Csikszentmihalyi termed it – “A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter”.

How to foster and balance innovation in your journey?

Innovation and the entrepreneurial mindset often seep into the individual journey undetected. Activities as routine as travel broaden perspectives and offer new cultures and methods to potentially embrace. Experiencing failure offers a window of understanding into our resilience, attitude and ability to overcome obstacles.

Meeting those who inspire and motivate us can provide mentors and guiding lights for direction in life. Most of all, it is by exposing ourselves to new projects and experiences that we further our propensity for innovation and expand our horizons innately.

However, innate experiences are not entirely responsible for fostering innovation. Often an intentional pursuit is required. Through my experience and personal journey of entrepreneurship from starting Brazil’s largest language school to opening and eventually selling a translation company in Italy, I have learned to develop my own framework, The Hybridpreneur, to enhance the entrepreneurial mindsets of those around me.

Moving from Entrepreneur and Intrapreneur to Hybridpreneur

In order to create and maximise our impact while also supporting ourselves and those around us, we need to strike a balance of the four components of the Hybridpreneur: Profit, Passion, Growth and Service. In reality, it is accepted that most people don’t have what they would consider a dream job which incorporates all of these. However, this ought to remain a career ambition in order to achieve the true eminence of innovation in the individual journey.

Conclusion

Innovation and the entrepreneurial mindset have languished in the tradition behind protective social distinction or exclusive definitions. Unfortunately, these outdated descriptions are no longer representative as innovation has and will continue to transcend its business application.

Frankly, the reskilling revolution only brought into light a phenomenon – the Reinvention Revolution – that had already begun to pave the future of individuality as employees and entrepreneurs going forward.

Individual and business innovation is the future and weaving these into the fabric of society will be demanded by the rapidly changing landscape of personal, sectoral and national advancement.

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