A Conversation with Babson College’s President Leonard A. Schlesinger on “Entrepreneurial Thought and Action”
Babson Insight (BI): What is entrepreneurial thought and action?
Schlesinger: The prevailing “predictive” logic that drives most organizations is rooted in the scientific method, characterized by hypothesis testing and rigorous outcomes analysis. Entrepreneurial thought and action is a different, though complementary, logic: it starts with action and is punctuated by reflection. We often call it “creation logic.”
BI: When should organizations make decisions using creation logic?
Schlesinger: The greater the uncertainty and unknowability of a situation, the less likely you are going to have productive outcomes associated with continuing to use causal-oriented logic. If you’ve seen a familiar type of challenge before, and you know what is likely going to happen, then you should apply predictive reasoning. If it is a situation that is basically unknowable for me, then I need to apply creation reasoning. It is really an exercise in knowing who I am, what I know, getting things done through my personal networks, and doing everything in a way that absolutely minimizes costs.
BI: Who should pilot, practice, and promote entrepreneurial thought and action inside large companies?
Schlesinger: Our operating belief is that everyone is capable of entrepreneurial thought, and everyone has the ability to operate in situations of uncertainty. So the secret is not to introduce entrepreneurial thought and action from the top with the CEO saying, “From this day forth, we will add creation reasoning to the way the company addresses problems and opportunities.” Rather it becomes part of the organization from the bottom up, with individual employees using this alternative form of thinking as the situation warrants. Of course, individual contributors generally won’t succeed trying to convince their company to create a new structure, but they can perhaps persuade them to come at a problem from a new angle. They can ask, “Can we think of this problem or opportunity in a different way, boss?” You will never get in real trouble doing that—especially if you do it gently.
BI: Do you think it’s important for the top to institute performance measures to entice people to use both sides of the reasoning.
Schlesinger: Nothing more is required than licensing the ability for people to think and act creatively about problems. Consider how Rosetta Stone is the most powerful language-learning system today. The theory behind it is: the only way to learn how to speak a language is to speak it. The more you speak it, the more natural it becomes. So within 20 minutes of using it they are getting you to speak this language. So, too, organizations need to license practice and reflection.
BI: How can an employee begin using entrepreneurial thought and action tomorrow?
Schlesinger: Using entrepreneurial thought and action tomorrow will involve four steps: First, decide what you want to do. Second, decide what you are willing to pay to do it—where the currencies are time, money, opportunity cost, and reputation. Third, take action. Fourth, assess. In moving forward, syndicate and discuss what you are doing to other like-minded individuals to be able to accelerate the process.
In summary: this is the way you were born to learn. Sitting in a crib there is no textbook next to you on how to be a baby. You just take in the world. You act on the world and it responds. And, ostensibly, that starts increasing the things you know versus what you don’t.