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If You Stop Learning You Lose The Chance To Be Entrepreneurial

Over the course of his writing, rather cleverly, Peter Drucker found a way to coin our past, present and future into distinct societies. At its root, a “society” is a group of people sharing traditions and values, organized as a community. Think of it as a collection open learners.

He first introduced the emergence of a “knowledge society” with the arrival of the knowledge worker. From there, Drucker insisted the “knowledge society” was beginning to evolve into an “employee society,” so long as management was able to focus on making the knowledge productive and useful.

Drucker then envisioned a day where the created, collective wealth of knowledge would advance into an “entrepreneurial society.”  He felt the “entrepreneurial society” would mark a turning point in history. I believe we’re missing a few steps in order to get there.

Drucker wrote, “What we need is an entrepreneurial society in which innovation and entrepreneurship are normal, steady and continual. Just as management has become the specific organ of all contemporary institutions, and the integrating organ of our society of organizations, so innovation and entrepreneurship have to become an integral, life-sustaining activity in our organizations, our economy, our society.”

Drucker felt the role of the institution (public, private, not-for-profit, legal, etc.) had to be rethought, to become far more innovative and entrepreneurial. I believe the most critical point that Drucker put forward about the “entrepreneurial society,” however, is that of continual learning. We must not believe a university credential earned in our early 20’s is the end of our learning. If leaders are to shift the organization (and our communities) to become a reasonable facsimile of the “entrepreneurial society,” we ought to become better lifelong autodidacts. (self learners … or perhaps organizational learners)

Take for instance Bas van Abel. He is the Founder and CEO of Fairphone. The purpose of the company is to manufacture mobile phones that are ethical. The phones are made from conflict-free minerals assembled by firms who also ensure fair wages for the factory workers. They make a mobile phone but do so ensuring they keep the greater good of society in mind.

But Bas chose to start Fairphone mostly because he is someone who loves to learn. In fact, loving to learn is part of Bas’s personal definition of purpose. Arguably, Bas is demonstrating Drucker’s premonition about the “entrepreneurial society.” By learning, he is innovating, and through Fairphone, society is benefitting.

The story of Bas and Fairphone got me thinking about my own professional situation. When I joined TELUS in late 2008, it was an organization possessing an employee engagement score of 53 percent. Customer satisfaction and corresponding likelihood to recommend scores were low, too.

Under the leadership of CEO Darren Entwistle, we utilized an enterprise-wide learning spirit to build a new leadership framework, pervasive learning model, community investment plan, recognition platform and collaboration tools. By 2015, employee engagement soared to 87 percent while every business metric correspondingly improved including customer satisfaction.

TELUS is now a highly engaged organization and its “entrepreneurial society” is paying dividends. TELUS Wise—a program fostering internet and smartphone safety and security—was launched to the public, free. The TELUS Innovation Lab commenced operations in 2016 to help startups, universities, and major corporations collectively bring ideas to market.

telus-fb-imageIn late 2013, I pitched the idea of launching an external “future of work” culture change consulting practice under the TELUS umbrella. TELUS Transformation Office (TTO) works with customers by helping them improve employee engagement, corporate culture and open leadership concepts. We do so by assessing the organization’s current-state and we then work with leaders to address how various processes, actions and disciplines ought to be redesigned. The launch of TTO has afforded me the opportunity to continue my own personal learning—in the start-up of a new business—while the team (and TELUS) gets to learn about our customers in a different way than offering IT services and telecommunications products.

Drucker insisted at the heart of the “entrepreneurial society” is an employee population that continuously learns and constantly innovates to ultimately improve society. I believe it is a goal that can be achieved, but in order to realize this vision, the following ought to be considered:

  • Invoke a learning culture across the organization by introducing formal, informal and social learning opportunities; not everything happens in a classroom and entrepreneurs learn from one another, not solely from the sage on the stage.
  • Encourage innovation but if a mistake or failure occurs, learn from it, don’t reprimand the error; as Entwistle says, “There is tuition value in mistakes.”
  • If the organization possesses a hierarchically driven leadership culture yet wants to become more innovative, employees will likely wait for innovation to originate from the top; if a more open and collaborative culture were to be demonstrated, there is the potential for the “entrepreneurial society” to materialize outside of the C-Suite.

Fairphone and TELUS are but two examples of organizations (and leaders) who understand the important aspect of both individual and organizational learning. If other organizations want to eventually create the “entrepreneurial society” we had better have more Bas Van Abel’s and Darren Entwistle’s in our midst, coupled with an organizational mindset that is open, cooperative and truly wanting to learn from one another.

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