by Jay Mitra
The last ten years or so have probably seen the biggest campaign for innovation in the corporate market place. Products, services, organizational strategies, markets and business models have all been scrutinized to be redesigned with the badge of innovation written across every single thing that they do. In the wake of permanent “disruption” buzz words have proliferated to accommodate the need to innovate or die! Yet very little has actually changed in terms of what forms represent, how they are organized to swallow greater helpings of market share, cut costs, buy back shares, cut investments in employees, buy back shares, bump up stock options, try and manipulate data, abuse employees in the run of things, and worse traffic the wishes, desires, messages to havens of manipulative data, all in the name of technological innovation.
A few years ago archeologists, anthropologists, and other scientists, proclaimed that we have entered the age of the Anthropocene. Human kind, for both good and bad, have eventually come to reign supreme over anything else that shaped our earth, our atmosphere, and of course the nature of our relationships with each other. This is a far cry from the Ice Age. And human kind has ushered in a new technology –led revolution with Industry 4.0 together with its advanced guard of machine learning, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality.
The corporate response and the analytical response from scribes and researchers has been to speculate in detail the advances that technology will make to change our lives. But this time it will be different because more technology will not only promise more leisure time but actually take over our activity time to leave us with nothing very much to do. The palliative rejoinder to that has been the dreamy supposition that new, undefined, and the known unknown jobs would help us reinvent ourselves. In effect, the tools of innovation now are slipping directly into the hands of the machines and their algorithms that will make, serve and transform the operations and outcomes of tomorrow’s commerce. This then is the promise of innovation.
Being entrepreneurial remains the only human function which can make sense of this technological whirlwind by taming its power for productive ends. Entrepreneurial managers do not simply lascivate over technology-led opportunities and the quick ROI fix, although everything in the reported media stories would indicate that the holy grail of short-termism, appropriation of our most personal data, mega mergers and acquisitions, and an antiquated model of growth through market share, are still part of the senior manager’s weaponry. The entrepreneurial manager mobilises a set of financial, human, organizational and social resources to create new forms of business activity. This means addressing pro-actively in-firm inequalities in pay, access to know-how, creative decision making processes, and reimagining the ethics of business organization. To assume that this can be achieved while maintaining the structural status-quo is an expression of stupefied arrogance. It is like the technology has hit the managers so hard, that they are unable to think beyond the pants of their seat.
Entrepreneurial management can address the inequities above by harnessing the data and the machine learning to identify and negotiate priorities with both the organisation’s internal and external communities of interest. It can collaboratively identify what processes and outcomes would attract interest and leverage inside the company and with the community in which it is embedded. It can activate a social model (not a business model) of talent nurturing in communities. It can move away from a given extractive strategy of resource absorption to continuous resource innovation. Instead of linear growth it can enrich itself with a better equipped local community with whom it works out what is good for the firm and what is better for the environment it serves.
Jay Mitra: Professor of Business Enterprise and Innovation and Doctoral Supervisor, Essex Business School, University of Essex, UK. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com