For the second consecutive time, FORTUNE magazine has named IBM as the #1 Global Company for Leaders. As part of our series on IBM Leadership, Vice President for Government Industry Strategy & Solutions Sharon Nunes comments on entrepreneurship and the global enterprise.
It bothers me when I hear people say that entrepreneurship is only valued at small companies. It’s simply not true. Just take a look at IBM’s CEO Study, where more than 1,500 CEOs said that creativity is helping navigate today’s volatile and complex business environment.
Granted, you need creativity to be a successful entrepreneur – from how you run a business with limited resources, to how you think about starting a new line of business or creating a new market. But creative instincts are not enough – entrepreneurship requires more than vision, a business plan, and funding. It also takes leadership and due diligence.
Five years ago, when I looked into starting up a “smart” water management business at IBM, very few around me imagined that our company would go in that direction. There was no ecosystem to plug into, because the market for these smart systems barely existed. So I began learning about the market and competition. Conversations with academics and city managers helped me understand what the technology play for water management systems would look like. IBM’s water business went on to be a strategic part of the company’s Smarter Cities global initiative.
This “internal start-up” process taught me leadership lessons that I think could help like-minded entrepreneurs at big companies, whether they are heading up a project, starting a product line, or jump-starting a new business unit. For example:
Strive for first-mover advantage
Being an entrepreneur takes energy and a lot of homework. You need to research industry developments and demographic trends because the market, and society, are always changing. It’s important to understand what the market is doing and what events are influencing it. That will give you insight into business needs and how the market is responding so you can shape it.
Just think about social media. It took less than a year for it to morph from a way to communicate with friends and colleagues into a critical tool for chief marketing officers in just about every industry. Organizations that anticipated and responded to these trends were the first to capture the benefits and new business opportunities that social media provides.
As Wayne Gretzky famously said, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”
Stay away from sycophants
The last thing you want is to operate in an echo chamber of consensus. It’s helpful to vet ideas with two or three people who don’t think like you and who will be brutally honest. It’s also a good way to build a network of allies. If you can convince skeptics, they will become your most loyal advocates and help sell your idea through their own internal networks. They will also press you to answer difficult questions that may not have occurred to you.
Know what you don’t know
It’s important to be self-aware. If you are an idea person, surround yourself with financial and operations experts. If you are an “execution” person, seek out visionaries and market analyzers. If you are good at recognizing a big market opportunity, surround yourself with people with a deep understanding of how it will stack up against competitors and be perceived by customers. And reach across sales, marketing, and other lines of business to gain different perspectives on client needs so you have your best shot at market success.
While the safety net at a large company may be bigger than at a small firm, the challenges to entrepreneurs are quite similar. You have to be a risk-taker and believe in your gut that it is the right thing to do – but don’t ignore market signs. And remember – it takes homework, not hubris.
BOTTOM LINE: Why vision, a business plan and funding are not always enough for budding entrepreneurs. #ibmleaders
Read more about IBM Leadership:
Why IBM Is the Best Company for Leaders by Randy MacDonald, Senior Vice President, Human Resources
A Global View of Leadership Development by Stanley S. Litow, Vice President, Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Responsibility and President, IBM International Foundation
How Private-Public Partnerships Can Lead Through Innovation by Rod Adkins, Senior Vice President, Systems & Technology Group
A New Model to Cultivate Global Leaders by Tony Mwai, Country General Manager, East Africa
Leadership Must Evolve in an Interconnected World by Bridget van Kralingen, General Manager, North America