As I write this, I have been thinking of confluence and coincidence. It often seems that life, at least mine, is marked by a pattern. Divergent streams of relationships and activities somehow come together into one large whole.
This week, I stand at the convergence of many streams, all flowing into innovation and entrepreneurship.
My current interest in innovation actually stems from what many would see as an unusual origin. A little over a decade ago, I had been recruited to form part of a research team that was to work on writing a book concerning corporate social responsibility (CSR). The team assumed that, coming from a private sector finance background, I would be quantitative and hard-nosed.
By the time of the publication of that first project (Doing Good in Business Matters, AIM & DLSU), I had become an unofficial part of the CSR research team. As we explored the different modes of CSR across businesses and countries, and its evolution within companies, we slowly realized that many businesses had come to a satisfying conclusion, that being responsible made business sense.
In fact, we had realized that making a conscious and explicit commitment to multiple bottom lines tended to drive companies to innovate. As we continued working with companies, we realized that companies that institutionalized CSR also tended to institutionalize social innovation – and that this resulted in creating competitive advantage (Herrera, 2015).
In fact, one of our business partners, Intel, had come to the same conclusion we had: that CSR can actually drive business innovation.
The entrepreneurship journey, on the other hand, can be traced much further back. First, to 1993 when we first began to talk about the business idea that eventually became two companies that celebrated their 20th anniversaries in 2014 and second, to 2001 when I was asked to be a Guru in the old AIM Master in Entrepreneurship program.
Last year, I began teaching in a program designed to help university-based inventors understand how to commercialize their inventions. This week, I was in a classroom with entrepreneurship professors from UC Berkeley and engineering professors from Philippine universities about how to introduce technopreneurship into engineering curriculums countrywide.
The readers of this column will have noticed a spike in my articles concerning entrepreneurship around about two years ago. Those who believe in the so-called rule of attraction will say that that might explain why I am now in the middle of preparing to offer the newly redesigned Mater in Entrepreneurship program. It might also explain why so many individuals and organizations involved in entrepreneurship have contacted AIM or even just me concerning innovation and entrepreneurship.
To the question of whether there is scientific evidence supporting coincidences, Thomas Griffiths and Joshua Tenenbaum actually propose scientific explanations in their paper: From mere coincidence to meaningful discoveries. The difference between those who diverge towards meaningful discoveries and those who progress to false beliefs, they explain, are explained by at least three things: (a) the quality of prior knowledge, (b) the ability to collect accurate information, and (c) the ability to recognize a pattern in the evidence. One could say that collecting evidence for coincidence is simply a matter of attention. The authors famously point out that the fictional Sherlock Holmes is able to come to seemingly magical conclusions not only because he pays better attention, but also because he has vast prior knowledge and uses a system of deduction. The authors, however, point out that, unlike Holmes, many fresh theories come in a flash of inspiration – a process that happens in the back of the mind.
The reality, in scientific discovery as well as in business innovation, is that the seed can come either from purposeful search (Holmes) or an attitude of mindfulness and exploration.
Entrepreneuring at AIM
This understanding of the multiple paths that entrepreneurs take towards that most important seed of entrepreneurship – the idea – is one of the basic building blocks of the AIM approach to entrepreneurial development.
The AIM Master in Entrepreneurship program is designed for owners, presidents and general managers of small and medium sized businesses. The purpose of the program is to help ME students bring their business to the next level. Some of this is very logical, structured and quantitative. Some is logical but also involves something inherently dynamic and malleable – changing trends, human emotions, human relationships. But much of it happens inside the entrepreneur.
At the moment of business inflection, the entrepreneur stands at a nexus. He balances multiple things and must at once be the roots and strong foundation of the company, the light that pushes the company’s vision, and the wings that will carry the company to that far horizon.
The entrepreneur must be able to do this without breaking the company or himself. It requires knowledge and skills, but also requires courage, confidence and inspiration.
A few weeks ago in AIM, two ME alumni visited to talk about their journeys and reminisce.
Mary Grace Dimacali, ME alumnus and founder of Mary Grace Foods, who had come to have coffee with me, has this to say: “Looking back, would I have opened my first mall kiosk without the ME? Definitely not.” “AIM provided the push, the momentum. And you’re more confident.”
Eddie Tuviera, another ME alumnus, explained that he had come to AIM hoping to learn to make his business better and bigger. He got much more. “In AIM, I discovered what I am is not just a dancer, not just a cameraman. In AIM I discovered what I really love is creating businesses. I love the process of taking an idea and making it real. I aim to finish this year with ten companies.” To those who came to AIM wanting to learn about the ME, he began with a warning: “It won’t be easy. It will be painful. Be prepared for the hard questions. Be prepared to change. This program doesn’t just change your business, it changes you.”. Speaking about his AIM mentors, he said, “And they, I guess all of the AIM profs, have this thing of answering your questions with questions. They really want you to think things through for yourself. They really challenge you to be the best you can be.”
Readers can email Maya at email@example.com. Or visit her site at http://integrations.tumblr.com.