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Robert B. Rosenfeld, US

Founder & CEO of Idea Connection Systems, Inc

What does Sustainable Entrepreneurship mean to you personally?

First I’d like to define entrepreneurship and Sustainable Entrepreneurship as well as distinguish between innovation and creativity.

An entrepreneur is someone who creates something new or picks up something new and then drives it to the marketplace. This is simultaneously a creative and innovative mode of operation. Creativity is generating the novel thought. Innovation is turning the novel thought into a quantifiable gain.  Organizations start with an entrepreneurial spirit, passionate about ideas and business creation. An entrepreneur continues reinventing themselves and creating new businesses over and over again. It is a way of life. Entrepreneurship is behaviorally driven. Entrepreneurs are, generally speaking, people who generate lots of ideas, focus on a few, and have a unique perspective on risk and boundaries. Because of that, they deal well with disruption. For them, disruption is a way of life.

One of the difficulties that organizations face as they mature is that entrepreneurship by itself does not allow one to sustain and grow profitability and new profits.  As successful organizations grow, they experience changes in leadership style and evolve into a more process-driven collaborative culture that is driven by process and standards.

This shift is towards a more collaborative culture which is at odds with entrepreneurial culture. This culture is at odds with disruption as a way of life, because it seeks to sustain and stabilize the organization. This shift is not a bad thing. We need to create processes in order to optimize what we’ve created and to sustain ourselves. Yet, as we move from being driven by creating new to being driven by process and standards, it becomes challenging for us to return to entrepreneurial behavior. This happens because the culture necessary to drive process creation tends to exclude the culture of entrepreneurship.

If organizations understand and accept the role of disruption alongside the stabilizing effect of process, these two disparate cultures and ways of being can help sustain the organization over a long time. Sustainable Entrepreneurship means we live in a situation where entrepreneurship is part of a way of life for the organization. It also means that collaborative, process driven culture is another part of the way of life for an organization. Sustainable Entrepreneurship is the appreciation of both the passionate entrepreneurial spirit and the collaborative, process-focused culture. This new pattern must emerge vis-à-vis the growth of a company if it wishes to have long-term viability.

How firmly rooted is Sustainable Entrepreneurship already in people's thinking and, above all, in the actions of entrepreneurs?

I think that it is not firmly rooted for the reasons listed in the previous question. As an organization grows, many of the entrepreneurs who start an organization are not able to sustain it.  It takes a different personality to sustain an organization versus the personality who creates a start-up. In order to sustain itself, a shift in the organization must occur; a shift from an entrepreneurial environment (culture) into a more collaborative, process-driven one. That shift tends to move us away from being entrepreneurial-centric. We must find a balance.

Sustainable Entrepreneurship is something that everyone desires but does not fully understand and know how to implement. The reason that we do not understand how to implement this practice is because people who live in an entrepreneurial environment don’t sustain an operation over long stretches of time. Many prefer to rebuild and/or create something new again. Sustaining something and building something new are two very different, complementary, and necessary approaches to business.

Which sectors do you think are doing the most in terms of Sustainable Entrepreneurship, and which have a lot of catching up to do?

Large established companies that have been around for long stretches of time have difficulty in sustaining entrepreneurship because entrepreneurial behavior by nature causes disruption, which is unsettling to the organization as it evolves and ages. A smaller, newer company is able to sustain entrepreneurship because it’s very close to its beginnings. As time progresses, even that kind of company will have the same issues other large companies face.

So there is no real sector that has advantages in sustainability; it has more to do with the length of time the company has existed and the success it has had. The longer a company has been around and the more successful it has been the more challenging it will be to sustain entrepreneurial behavior. It is ironic, but true. The faster a company grows and becomes successful, the sooner entrepreneurial behavior is lost because of the necessary creation of processes and standards. Many of the companies enduring the “dot-com bubble” saw this shift happen very quickly.  If you examine the organization that disappears, you will see that although they started out entrepreneurial they were not able to sustain that past a certain point.

There is an evolutionary shift into process, not entrepreneurial passion. Yet, in order to sustain entrepreneurship there must be process AND passion. How these coexist in a culture is determined by leadership.

Enlightened leadership will simultaneously encourage sustainable entrepreneurial behavior and collaborative process. The enlightened leaders must appreciate and value both and allow each to be valued.

Are there any differences between the US and Europe?

I am not sure that is the right question. The world has entered into another state of being. The question isn’t “What are the differences between US and Europe”, the question should be, “How do we sustain entrepreneurship globally”? The original question asks about specific nations, but the problem is global-centric. If we look back in time, Sustainable Entrepreneurship was a more localized issue. In a global marketplace we need to work together to solve these problems.

In your opinion, to what extent is it possible to reconcile being economically successful with creating added value for society?

I believe that economically successful organizations have a responsibility to society, a responsibility that comes with success which is contained within the concept of a triple bottom line*. I don’t see success and responsibility at odds with one another; I see them as synergistic. It is an organization’s responsibility and their right to invest a percentage of their profits in what they wish to develop in society. This concept only makes sense providing the business is profitable and desires to share that success. Success includes profitability and social responsibility both of which are complementary … This success is the underlying purpose of business.   

You are helping organizations around the world to develop their innovation potential. What would you say are the biggest challenges?

The greatest challenge for innovation potential is success. Success can impair our ability to see where we need to go. When things become disruptive, it’s more difficult for us to make the change. Change means we need to give up and let go of what we have.

Another challenge is understanding that people are predisposed to and have different mindsets. Organizations need to have different people with different mindsets at different critical time periods throughout their development. If my organization has evolved from entrepreneurial to a more collaborative and process-driven culture, that collaborative culture is going to attract more process-driven people. That could mean we may lack the ideal people to build the entrepreneurial piece. Ideally both cultures must coexist. That is very difficult for most organizations to sustain. Ask yourself the question, “If your organization has been around for more than 15-20 years, do both cultures coexist? Are they treated equally and are both weighed seriously?”

Coming up with a unique and creative idea is one thing, but executing and turning it into an actual innovation another thing. Is there a secret recipe?

Ideas are cheap, applying them in the marketplace (an innovation) is not.  The sweat required to make ideas happen is not cheap. 

The secret recipe is: getting the right people in the right seats at the right time. If I don’t have this, then I can’t make the innovation happen. If I don’t have the right people who want to drive new business inside my organization, people who are entrepreneurial by nature, I will predominantly produce incremental innovation, and not expansionary to revolutionary innovation.

There are different people that specialize in different areas of the spectrum of innovation between evolutionary (incremental), expansionary, and revolutionary (breakthrough). This is because of their natural wiring and predisposition. Finding and choosing the right people becomes key. Then, placing them in the right seats for the type of innovation that is required at the current time.

Talking about Innovation and Entrepreneurship you are known to quote the so-called ‘Invisible Cycle’. What does that actually mean?

The Invisible Cycle is a cycle that all organizations, whether private or public, experience. The beginning of the cycle is the entrepreneurial phase to make something happen and drive it. Over time, the cycle progresses through the exploration phase and the administration phase to setup infrastructure (these processes are necessary for sustainability). These parts of the Invisible Cycle are not visible to us in our organizations because most people haven’t lived through the entire cycle.

We usually experience only part of the cycle. The cycles can take 1 year (as in a dot-com) or 30 years. It could even take 100 years. I compare it to going through the cycles of the seasons. If all I have ever known is summer, and winter arrives, I do not know what to do; I do not know how to dress properly for the weather. That is akin to the Invisible Cycle. Many of our leaders have not lived through the entire cycle and returned to its beginning. Because of that we can’t see the next phase transition relative to the phase we are in. We don’t know what to do as a result.

How important is an international initiative like the SEA to raise more awareness of Sustainable Entrepreneurship as a win-win business model?

It is extremely important. We are living in a time of extreme disruption. If we can’t develop the entrepreneurial behavior we need, we will lose jobs. Our large companies need to develop that as well, and create an entrepreneurial culture to collaborate. SEA offers the opportunity to spread that information and help each other develop where we need to go. We need to see the world as a single country and humankind as its citizens. SEA is a really good stepping stone for making that happen.

What persuaded you to support this idea?

I support this because I see a relationship between jobs and Sustainable Entrepreneurship.

I am concerned about the wellbeing of organizations and making sure there are enough jobs so that all of us can be working. I believe it’s necessary to use the strengths of people.

I have been involved with innovation for over 40 years and I clearly see a problem regarding sustaining entrepreneurship. It’s not a technological problem or a business problem. Those problems are readily solvable and workable. But rather, the problem continues to be the human dynamics, the human element. It is the inability to match people to the current season and the task correctly. It is in understanding that there is functional behavior that works for one season and the same behavior is dysfunctional for another season.

You and State Senator Marc Pacheco are the first official SEA ambassadors. What does that mean to you personally?

First of all, it is an honor for me to be asked to do this. What I have seen since I’ve been here is that the environment here is so critical for being able to be brought globally. I started listening to all the companies I work with, the heads of innovation they employ and the parts of government I deal with because I am acting globally. And I see this role as a door opener for me, a way to start inviting people to dialogue with one another.

What can and must be done to further foster the debate on an international level?

What needs to be done is to understand the humanity of this issue. It’s not a ‘nation-issue,’ it is the issue of understanding the types of people and the organization’s culture in which we are placing them. We need to create a synergy and respect for one another so as to leverage each other’s strengths. This is facilitated and encouraged by our leadership. The old model, the international model, is where we compete between nations. That doesn’t work anymore… it’s now global. We need to create and work together in our global tribe (company). The competition exists between our global tribes (companies) not our nations.

Barack Obama, stressed that the US and Europe should more intensively work together in the world scene. How could an extensive exchange help?

The US and Europe working together would be a next logical step towards creating global tribes. The purpose of the tribe would be to extend its unique tools within the tribe and thereby make it more competitive in the marketplace. Leveraging each other’s strengths will help us create more vibrant businesses and thereby create more jobs for everyone. Over time, our businesses will be centered on the wellbeing of the planet, not just the wellbeing of our hometowns.

Politics, industry, society. What do you think should be the driving force for the further development of Sustainable Entrepreneurship?

The driving force for Sustainable Entrepreneurship is people. Politics, industry, and society are all made up of people. The goal is the ability to create wealth, and in so doing, creating jobs and furthering the development of the society in which we live.

This would benefit the political nature, the industrial nature, and most importantly, we will raise the standards within our society.

If we don’t do that, the repercussions will be severe.   We must envision the globe as one huge group of connected people that must appreciate their differences and leverage them in order to thrive.

To what extent can each one of us contribute towards increasing the relevance of sustainability?

We all can contribute by understanding the cycle in which we live and how to build sustainability in the different cultures. We must also help our leaders understand what we see. If we are leaders, we must reflect on whether we can hear the voices of our people and then create what is needed. Instead of creating silos and factions, we must create unity in our differences. That may sound overly simplistic. It is not easy to do, but it is possible providing that we respect the differences between people and then leverage those differences by identifying them and using the right people in the right place in the right moment of our Invisible Cycle.

* triple bottom line - a phrase coined by John Elkington in 2009 referring to criteria for measuring organizational success through economic, ecological, and social means.