“Precocious money-making schemers.”
This is the unfortunate stereotype frequently conjured when imagining the youthful pursuit of entrepreneurship. Consider the movie Risky Business, in which Tom Cruise’s character runs a brothel out of his suburban Chicago home to satisfy an assignment for his high school business club and improve his chances for admission into Princeton University.
Hollywood may propagate its own version of early entrepreneurship bred at schools. However, the reality is that many universities have truly embraced the imperative to prepare future generations of entrepreneurs who can create new jobs and raise the bar on business innovation.
In previous articles I have written about the importance of business acumen and community volunteerism in providing truly meaningful service to clients. Let’s now add to that the entrepreneurial mind-set of risk-taking, and let’s start with the newest generation entering the public relations industry.
Recent research from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation shows that entrepreneurship is a rising area of educational training in the U.S. According to the foundation, in 1970 only 16 business schools offered classes on entrepreneurial studies. Fast-forward about 40 years, and more than 2,000 universities now offer business degree programs and course options that help shape minds attuned to innovation, business growth and risk-taking.
As a growing number of graduates from these programs join the PR ranks, how can those of us at the helms of communications firms and in-house teams ensure that they do not experience culture shock from the sudden immersion into a deeply pragmatic business environment caused by a battered economy? Just as important, what can we do to embed a culture of entrepreneurialism among multiple generations of our employees?
The PR counselors at Gibbs & Soell often work alongside clients as they reinvent themselves in order to break a cycle and reposition within a redefined market. We have witnessed resulting breakthroughs across industries. We have seen that in a similar way, adoption of an entrepreneurial culture can become a powerful force of change within PR.
ISLANDS OF RISK
While schools are adding courses that help students start their own companies, less common is training that prepares future business pros to see the value of risk-taking within existing operations.
This disparity is already apparent in the current business landscape and may have longer-term implications on the U.S.’ economic comeback.
Another study released by the Kauffman Foundation in March 2011 indicates that the U.S. may be experiencing a tentative recovery based on “jobless entrepreneurship,” in which entrepreneurs start businesses to be self-employed rather than to employ others. Does the burgeoning growth of “islands” of entrepreneurship come at the cost of new jobs?
ENTER THE “INTRAPRENEUR”
In a world clouded by doubt about the future, there most certainly is room for productive risk-taking that involves others and can lead to job creation.
“A person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation,” is how the American Heritage Dictionary defined an “intrapreneur” in 1992.
Similarly, by leveraging the principles of entrepreneurship, PR organizations can kick-start business and innovation. Here are a few ways:
• Recruit differently. Interviews with job candidates should move beyond questions about writing skills to also probe about hands-on experiences with monetizing ideas.
• Establish a group dedicated to risk-taking. More complex organizations can set up their own Skunk Works, the name officially used for Lockheed Martin’s research and development team that works on advanced assignments using the guideposts of “quick, quiet and quality.”
• Institute a buddy system. Smaller organizations can also adopt entrepreneurial practices by bringing together a promising young risk taker with a seasoned professional. Their roles are to simply remove obstacles to risk-taking for each other.
PR organizations can embrace their own unique cultures of risk taking to deliver results they or their clients would deem better than any Hollywood ending. PRN
Luke Lambert is president of Gibbs & Soell Public Relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.