The material that makes Post-it® Notes stick to our car dashboards, laptops, work-tables, and fridges was once dismissed as an ‘adhesive experiment gone bad’. The outcome of a skunk-works project in the 1970s by 3M scientist Dr. Spencer Silver, the adhesive started life as an interesting material. Silver soon found it could be used multiple times on a variety of surfaces without leaving a residue. However, it had no immediate, obvious application. Then, a series of fortunate accidents and its inventor’s steadfast focus helped it gain its current status in the 1980s. Today, as an extensively used, household name, Post-it® Notes are chosen by scores of people to paste notes on any surface.
The small yellow notes’ rise to fame is a shining example of how great organizations are built when they actively nurture entrepreneurial talent. The discovery that Dr. Silver stumbled upon while working in a 3M lab was made possible because the company had clear policies to promote and protect innovating thinking. This included the opportunity for researchers to be part of skunk-works projects. These gave employees a separate space to experiment and take new ideas to fruition.
In all my years of experience as an entrepreneur, I have found that this is a crucial idea that needs to be implemented. It needs to be made available at every tier of an organization—from the highest level of the leadership team to the work-floor. Doing so requires trust from the management, and group leaders must allow employees with an entrepreneurial bent of mind to innovate fearlessly.
Yet, just as with Dr. Silver’s discovery at 3M, even the most promising ideas will have to be put to the test and prove to be bankable and marketable. At the end of the day, as businesses, we are answerable to our stakeholders. If a product doesn’t fulfill either current or projected future needs, companies cannot afford to indulge out-of-the-box thinking just for the sake of a great idea.
This is why I will say, that nurturing entrepreneurship to build great organizations comes down to finding the sweet spot between freedom and discipline. Entrepreneurs with their fresh, bold thinking need to be given ample space to try out new ideas, yet companies should not lose focus of their business goals.
At Infinite, we are trying to achieve the right balance between structure and free-play by instituting an attentive and open environment where new ideas are welcome. We give employees the leeway to develop these ideas, providing them with logistical and financial support, while encouraging them to evaluate market receptivity.
This approach has led to the emergence of our proprietary, bot-powered, collaboration platform, Zyter™. Everyone involved in conceptualizing Zyter™ was given the time and space required to think the idea through, gauge its relevance to the domain market, and ensure that it functioned seamlessly on phone and cloud platforms. It was no surprise that Zyter™ debuted to critical acclaim and has won several top global awards in the Best IT Services – Products and Services category.
To me, Zyter™’s success demonstrates that when a business co-opts entrepreneurial talent into everyday business processes, it crosses the bridge from being a good to a great organization. This is because, on the face of it, an entrepreneurial spirit runs contrary to the traits companies encourage: stability, continuity, and a long-term vision. However, when a business cracks the code on how to encourage disruptive thinking alongside company goals, it unlocks the door to differentiating itself as an organization.
As enterprises, we can do a couple of things to ensure this happens. First, provide entrepreneurial talent with a clear structure within which to innovate. Second, show them that a good idea can become a great one when it bridges market gaps with solutions that solve unaddressed problems. Third, ensure they are aware of what their potential competitors are doing. Fourth, encourage them to invest time in understanding their customers’ concerns. Fifth, assure them that the company will support them with resources and finances when their idea shows measurable promise.
As digital transformation makes it imperative for companies to adapt to new business models, I see an even greater need to foster entrepreneurial talent. This is because the disruptive new ideas that entrepreneurs are hard-wired to deliver are often the ones that can help truly distinguish a company among its peers. This then helps pave the way for a good business to become a great one.