Mobilizing entrepreneurship in the service of organizational transformation: yes, but how?

by bold-lichterman

The issue of organizational transformation continues to represent a challenge that sometimes seems insurmountable for large organizations faced with profound changes in their environment. They are aware that it is necessary to change, make important efforts for this but often without much result.

In recent years, having noticed that the major strategic plans carefully orchestrated following an apparently impeccable logic were not leading to anything, they turned to entrepreneurship and all its variants (hacking, lean start-up, etc.) with a an idea that also seems very logical: in a more entrepreneurial era, the key to organizational transformation is that our employees become more entrepreneurial.

But here again the results are disappointing. Not only do large organizations slowly kill entrepreneurial initiative, but above all, experience shows that even a successful entrepreneurial initiative only modestly contributes to transformation. We have to mobilize entrepreneurship in a different way. But how?

In our book “Mental Model Strategy”, Béatrice Rousset and I explain how, at the heart of organizational transformation, is the notion of mental model. A mental model is a set of beliefs and individual and collective values ​​that we build to represent the world effectively, that is, to allow us to act.

An organization is defined by its mental models which shape it and define its identity in a profound way. Transforming an organization therefore requires transforming its mental models. These therefore constitute both the entry point into the organization, but also the “raw material” to be worked on. You have to expose them (as they are most often unconscious), test them to identify where they are harmful, and adjust them.

The question is how to do all of this. Even if the notion of mental model exists (sometimes under different terms) in a large number of disciplines, it has been used very little by management, which has therefore not developed a specific practice for it.

Entrepreneurs, transformers of mental models

In the economic field, it is towards entrepreneurs that we must turn to find the notion of mental model. Indeed, entrepreneurs make us accept things that were unimaginable or unacceptable before. AirBnB thus makes us find it normal to accommodate a complete stranger in our living room. BlaBlaCar makes us find it normal to travel in a stranger’s car.

Facebook makes us expose all the details of our private life in the public square. Those who are doing all of this today would never have done it a few years ago. The specificity of entrepreneurs is therefore to question and then adjust mental models that previously seemed to be universal and absolute truths, such as “A stranger will never sleep in my living room“.

Mental model transformer (Source: (c) BlaBlaCar)

Therefore, what we must mobilize from entrepreneurship to transform organizations, are neither its methods, nor its creativity, nor its supposed agility, nor its postures, but its ability to change mental models in connection with a reality. complex and changing. If entrepreneurs are able to do it in new markets, then we can draw inspiration from them to do it within an organization.

But how do entrepreneurs do to change our mental models? Here again, we had the answer in front of us for a long time! Almost 20 years ago, in fact, the American researcher of Indian origin Saras Sarasvathy showed, in a pioneering work, that entrepreneurs are not extraordinary beings, but normal individuals who apply five relatively simple principles, that she has grouped together under the term “performance”, which correspond to alternative mental models: starting with what one has (the reality of the organization, that is to say its mental models), acting in acceptable loss ( making small changes without risk), eliciting commitments (matching our mental models with others and acting on this basis), leveraging surprises to act (because surprise illuminates our mental models), and creating a favorable context in the organization so that these alternative models are mobilized.

An entry point –mental models–, five alternative models inspired by entrepreneurs, and a discipline to practice them on a daily basis. We can now mobilize entrepreneurship and its principles no longer in a naive way (let’s be entrepreneurs and everything will be fine!) But concrete so that everyone can act here and now and thus make it possible to trace a possible path for the organization and put it back in line. movement.

This article is taken from the book “ Mental model strategy “ , co-written with Béatrice Rousset and published by Diateino.

On the topic of mental models and their importance for transformation, read my previous articles: What blocks your organizational transformation are your mental models, A world of ruptures: The great evening of mental models, and Redefining the Concept of Vision in an Uncertain World: Vision as a Mental Model.

The contributor:

Philippe Silberzahn

Philippe Silberzahn is professor of entrepreneurship, strategy and innovation at EMLYON Business School and associate researcher at thePolytechnic School (CRG), where he received his doctorate. His work focuses on how organizations manage situations of radical uncertainty and complexity, from an entrepreneurial perspective with the study of the creation of new markets and new products, and from a managerial perspective with the study management of disruptions, strategic surprises (black swans) and complex problems (“wicked problems”) by large organizations. To follow his writings, visit his blog.