Having conducted a number of Strategic Foresight exercises for various universities over the past year, I am shocked and concerned how ill-prepared students on Built Environment programmes are, with notable exceptions, to ride the rising global tide of entrepreneurialism.
The nature of innovation, work, markets and lifestyle is all changing faster than ever before as successive waves of creativity, technology, opportunity and distribution crash around the business oceans of the world. The really big rollercoasters of entrepreneurship are caused by ‘convulsive convergence’, when several unrelated ideas bump into each other and create massive, unpredictable and sporadic results. Huge breakthrough technologies are all bumping into each other at the moment. Some great waves of change are seriously about to take off, and it is suggested that a wench will be driven between two classes of people. First, those who are surfing these waves into the ‘Entrepreneur Revolution’; and second, those who are clinging to the closing ripples of the departing ‘Industrial Revolution’. The surfers are the ones who embrace change, are future focused, and who have positioned themselves to catch the wave and have fun with it. Get on the wave! (Priestly, 2018). Ride the Tsunami!
Descriptions and characteristics of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship abound. Most simply defined, however, an entrepreneur is a person who identifies a need and starts a business to fill that void. But I particularly like the following two definitions:
“At its core, entrepreneurship is a mindset – a way of thinking and acting. It is about imagining new ways to solve problems and create value. Fundamentally, entrepreneurship is about the ability to recognise and methodically analyse opportunity, and ultimately, to capture its value.” (Bruce Bachenheimer, Executive Director of the Entrepreneurship Lab at Pace University, USA).
“Entrepreneurship is the ability to recognise the bigger picture, find where there’s an opportunity to make someone’s life better, design hypotheses around these opportunities, and continually test your assumptions. It’s experimentation: some experiments will work; many others will fail. It’s not big entrances and exits, huge net worth or living a life of glamour. It’s hard work and persistence to leave the world a better place once your time here is done.” (Konrad Billetz, co-founder and co-CEO of Offset Solar).
We are experiencing the incredible, and inexorable, rise of the Global Small Business (GSB). Indeed, Priestley prophesies that not too long from now: almost every business will be multinational; tiny little businesses will behave big; and, there will be millions of Global Small Businesses (ibid). The GSB, however, isn’t like big global business or traditional small business, for it can reach into cities all over the world and can easily be making millions in sales despite a relatively small headcount. GSBs might be service providers, offer intangible products like software and information, or sell physical products that can be sent whizzing all over the globe to customers in faraway places. They will have incredibly well-developed brands making them look much bigger than they are. Their brand identity will be consistent across social media platforms, their systems will be cutting-edge, they will be driven by a powerful culture that all team members connect with, and they will access funding directly from the marketplace when they have big idea they want to scale (ibid).
GSBs, moreover, will revolve around the special talents of a few ‘Key Persons of Influence’, and their business will outsource almost every function that is not clearly creating value, or unique to the business. The team may be geographically separated, but everyone will share the vision, values and passion of the business. They will communicate on dedicated messaging platforms, market themselves using social media, manage their operations in the cloud, and be based wherever it makes sense from a tax and intellectual property protection standpoint. Top talent will work from home offices and virtual meeting environments or rented boardrooms on a weekly or monthly basis. Operating in multiple time zones, the edges of work and play will blur, but performance will always be more important than hours clocked.
GSBs will become an especially attractive alternative to white-collar workers; and professionals like architects, engineers, lawyers, accountants, consultants and managers will define a ‘micro-niche’, and then leave traditional employment in favour of their own start-up, or join a GSB that stirs up their underlying passion. Lifestyle and flexibility will be a huge advantage for a GSB. Taxation, however might be a challenge involving living and travelling between two or three locations, but it will be an enviable lifestyle, though the business won’t sleep being open 24/7. As Priestley states (ibid): “It’s time to choose. Disrupt or be disrupted. Right now, we are at a cusp in history. It’s a revolutionary time”.
Of special relevance to the built environment professions, and graduates therefrom, entrepreneurial ventures can combine the classic entrepreneurial process with sustainability concepts. This combination encompasses design approaches and corporate competencies that generate new offerings which achieve revenue growth and profitability while enhancing human health, supporting ecological system stability, and contributing to the vitality of local communities. There is a growing body of research, in fact, that shows the interconnections across sustainability, innovation, and entrepreneurship to give greater understanding of a current global phenomenon: the search for new products, creative technologies, and fresh ways of conducting business that will replace the old with designs intended to help solve some of society’s most challenging issues. When such products are designed, and business strategies are structured, around systems thinking that is associated with ecology and sustainability, however, the outcome, as in any system composed of interacting and interdependent elements, emerges as larger than the sum of its constituent parts. Arguably, moreover, it forms a kind of ‘Sense of the Commons’ for engineering the design of ecologically and environmentally sustainable systems in society!