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Many people, and certainly many of my clients, would like to have, or not to lose, ‘the entrepreneurial spirit’. Some remember the days when the organization was very small and everybody talked to each other. A bit of reverent nostalgia of the type ‘I wish the children had not grown up so much’. Others have never seen ‘an entrepreneurial, start-up spirit’ in their lives, other than in the media, or a third party account. They have always worked, and work now, in a big enterprise, perhaps successful, but far from a start up, and little entrepreneurial. They dream of an ‘entrepreneurial, start-up spirit’ as something to be injected in the system. Even their CEO goes around saying that ‘we have to have one of these’.

So what is it? There is no universal answer to what ‘one of these look like’. It’s the classical Potter Stewart, USA Supreme Court judge, defining pornography: ‘I know when I see it’. Many ‘lists of entrepreneurial characteristics’ contain items such as having a vision, communicating well, being courageous etc. A great deal of these has little to do with the ‘entrepreneurial, start-up spirit, and more with a well run a successful company.

So here is my attempt based upon no research, but years of organizational consulting. This what ‘I recognised when I saw it!’

  1. In front of barriers, people deal with them fast and with little fuss. They find ways around better than anybody else.
  2. People are very conscious of resources, often limited. They are very mindful of ‘time’ (the downside is that many leaders in these set up spend a lot of time ‘chasing money’)
  3. People seem to have 3 or 4 jobs ‘all in one’ and the sky does not seem to fall. And it’s not masochism. Not even ‘cost-consciousness’. It is what it is. People are their own ’corporate support’.
  4. There is little or zero bullshit. And they are happy to pronounce this word without red face. Simply, they can’t afford it.
  5. ‘Rapid reaction’ is in the genes. If needed, they change gears in one afternoon.
  6. The decision making process is nimble. It does not mean less thoughtful or rigorous. It’s my ’3 people in 3 days instead of 30 people in 30 days’ model, that I have explained  before.
  7. The personal relationship is high; people ‘know each other well’. (It does not always mean ‘collective social life’ and scheduled barbeques).There is a blurred personal-professional frontier in their relationship, and it’s healthy.
  8. Transparency is in the air. They can’t afford not to have this. There is no need to say: ‘we will be open, transparent and candid’.
  9. Despite what the business magazines say, and business gurus tell you, there is no free lunch. Life may be exciting but also hard. It’s hard work and lots of frustrations. Long hours or ‘extra miles’ do not mean being workaholic’.
  10. Most employees, if not all, have ‘near-zero degree of separation’ with the leadership of the company. Also ‘near-zero degree of separation’ from ‘the action’, so making a contribution and seeing the impact is almost in real time.
  11. Resilience is a shared component of the DNA. “Keep going’, learn fast, change gears, don’t give up. Stronger after crisis.
  12. Passion. I am sceptical about this term that has been over-used so much. But, although passion is not exclusive of the ‘entrepreneurial, start-up set up’, you can’t be in one of them without it. Whether it is an idea, or a technology or a cause…

To have one of these ‘entrepreneurial, start up’ environments or cultures, pick most of the above, mix them up, and cook . Seriously, the Organizational Holy Grail is the mastering of this kind of behavioural DNA. For some, is not to lose it. For others, is to inject it. For mature organizations is how to use that maturity, history, knowledge, scale (and its economies), and keep, or create a behavioural fabric that qualifies as ‘entrepreneurial, start up spirit’.

Whether you agree with my list or no, what matters, in the first instance, is to define what this famous ‘entrepreneurial, start up spirit’ is, as opposed to simply use the terms because they have some sort of glorious halo.

‘Entrepreneurial, start up’ is a state of mind, a behavioural disposition, a view of the world, not a particular form of organization chart.

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