What makes a good entrepreneurial strategist and why does every company need one?


I worked with an organization last year setting up a brand new innovation team and process. This team is made up of various department heads and it quickly became obvious that many great ideas were already inherent in the organization, which we uncovered and evaluated. 2012 was supposed to bring a flurry of new ideas and concepts to the market, but implementation has stalled. What they need is a true “entrepreneur”, someone who can get the cogs of change cranking no matter what the challenge.

How can we identify who has the capacity to play this role? As organizations grow and structures become more formal, the entrepreneur can become lost. To identify the entrepreneurs, it’s probably a good idea to start with the question “what makes an entrepreneur?” in the first place.

A successful “entrepreneurial strategist” must exhibit entrepreneurial characteristics and be able to apply these characteristics to the skill of strategy formation. If strategy is the end goal, applying an entrepreneurial mindset is the means to the end.

So, what characteristics make a successful entrepreneur? Let us consult the interweb for guidance.

Walter Keummerle explores the key qualities that make a successful entrepreneur and distils these entrepreneurial characteristics into the following litmus test;

  1. Are you comfortable stretching the rules?
  2. Are you prepared to make powerful enemies?
  3. Do you have the patience to start small?
  4. Are you willing to shift strategies?
  5. Are you a closer?

Kuemmerle’s ultimate assertion is that as an entrepreneur “you often have to shift from one strategy to another very quickly” and that “a new venture gains credibility more by simply surviving than by doggedly following its original strategy”.

This strategic adaptability should be inherent in all good entrepreneurs. But if this adaptability is not part of the fabric of a company, how can the entrepreneur survive there?

[NB: Riet Hoffman of LinkedIN fame’s 10 rules of entrepreneurship has a start-up slant but well worth a look.]

Jon P. Goodman’s theory has one over-riding factor he believes is imperative to entrepreneurial success; that self-belief and the resulting determination will ensure that “successful entrepreneurs act out of choice”. “Good ideas are common; the people who can implement them are rare”.

Jim Hatch and Jeffrey Zweig researched 50 entrepreneurs in Chicago searching for evidence of Entrepreneurial Spirit, arriving at the following list of characteristics:

  • Risk Tolerance - “failure not defined by insolvency, but by not starting the business in the first place”
  • Desire for Control – intrapreneurial experience enables a level of control in decision making
  • Desire to Succeed - the ambition to grow a successful business
  • Perseverance - managing through setbacks, the “will” to succeed
  • Decisiveness - a readiness to act

Importantly, the birth of an idea is only possible when entrepreneurial spirit is combined with a strong business concept. In other words, the “entrepreneurial strategist” is king.

As human beings, we are born choice-makers. The flip-side is when we try and limit these choices to those that we believe, based on previous experience, are the most likely to succeed. The entrepreneur needs to tap into the unknown future to be fully satisfied in the decisions he makes. Flexibility is required here otherwise the entrepreneur will become extinct from corporate evolution.

Each journey is different. Tapping into weaknesses, and concentrating on leveraging unique talents is important. In the organization mentioned at the beginning of this article, we decided to enhance the strengths of the team rather than trying too hard to overcome the weaknesses.

We figured that if we managed to combine all of their individual talents into one beast, we would have a formidable innovation machine. But this machine requires a driver. The team will provide the signposts and become the Devil’s Advocate for the innovation process, but it takes a special kind of person, an entrepreneurial strategist, to get the cogs turning. For this reason, running some of these theories over the company will uncover the most likely candidates for nurturing. Until then, the onus will be on the business owner.

Australia needs vitamins.

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