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  • Writer's pictureAlexander M. Wegner

Tomorrow's Businesses Need Intrapreneurs

(C) Fiona Darby

FIRMS ACROSS SILICON VALLEY TAKE PRIDE IN THEIR CULTURE, one that is allegedly characterized by the authority of ideas rather than the idea of authority, of which Lawrence Summers importantly speaks. While firms with a culture such configured may exist, they are likely to form the minority. The very idea of practically flat organizations is counter-intuitive. All that is organized, is necessarily hierarchical, as man is unlikely to honor duty, absent of surveillance and accountability, however bothersome.

Problematically, employees can--more often than not--heighten their rank through a combination of cultural and social capital, irrespective of their human capital. Leadership may, thus, be insufficiently capable, and is unlikely to be scrutinized and criticized, given that ascent, so configured, requires employees of the lower strata to please upper echelons. Failure to do so, is prone to impair their progression.

Coupled with habit, as an inclination to hold on to what has been and what currently is, corporate operations are prone to be poisoned. Indeed, employees as well as the leadership and the corporations they serve, tend to be deprived of the autonomy that creativity foremost requires. The creative must be able and permitted both to perceive anew and to act anew, distorting and re-configuring what has been and what is, so to gradually transition toward what can be.

Of course, creation--as the outcome of the very imagination to which creativity is presently reduced--means to extend or supplant the given, which is prone to collide with established interests and the modus operandi to which these give rise. Those offering advice of all kinds--the so called consultants--are, arguably, the most unlikely source of creativity, as their compensation tends to be affected by the degree to which their clients are pleased. Needless to say, innovation--typically tied to creative destruction--is not necessarily pleasant. Thus, consultants are more likely to be subservient than they are to be creative, undermining the very purpose of their profession, and eroding the value they are tasked to create.

As societies are evermore engulfed by a peculiar combination of credentialism and consumerism, with its constituents being in the restless pursuit of success, the employee is in any case no longer eager to create value for society at large, but merely strives to traverse seemingly flat ladders, often unaware that there are limits to his efforts.

Firms who are eager to heighten medium-term profits, and generate long-term value (see "Capitalism for the LongTerm" by Dominic Barton, McKinsey & Company) must, therefore, turn not to consultants but to intrapreneurs. These individuals, who are specifically hired to enhance what is, and thereby not coerced to please those by whom they were hired, are best capable of elevating corporate performance, in the pursuit of creativity--in the true sense of the term. Flat hierarchies are part of the rhetoric fancied by societies that are desperate for equality, unconscious that liberty will require some to fall, for others to rise, so that the dauntingly complex human project continues to evolve.

Businesses of tomorrow must not resemble oak trees but bamboo, that is, dynamic organizations that are in constant flux, guided by the possibilities that imagination illuminates, rather than the check-marks that continuity necessitates. Unless a brave few will take the lead, as prior in history, business thus configured is unlikely to emerge.

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