We live in exciting yet challenging times. To highlight just one number that makes most business people sweat: Retiring Cisco CEO John Chambers recently shared his belief that 40 percent of the great companies we admire today will no longer exist just 10 years from now. Strategic consultants tell us we should digitally transform every aspect of our business. Silicon Valley bets on accelerating entrepreneurship through its unique ecosystem, and incumbents are working hard to build a more intrapreneurial company culture.
These strategies are obviously indispensable for dealing with exponential change. However, most brands miss out on one of the most promising routes to reinvent themselves for the new age, while it is right under their noses: “extrapreneurship.”
Most people are familiar with the terms entrepreneurship – the capacity and willingness to develop, organize, and manage a business venture along with any of its risks, in order to make a profit – and intrapreneurship – the practice of entrepreneurship in an established firm, intended to circumvent the drawbacks of bureaucracy. However, leaders do not always find all answers within the walls of their organization, realizing that those from other walks of life might just hold the keys to at least part of the solution.
That’s why we are witnessing the emergence of a new breed of entrepreneurs: extrapreneurs. Instead of applying entrepreneurial thinking within the company borders, extrapreneurs are people outside your company caring so much about your brand that they spontaneously undertake entrepreneurial activities for it.
Consumers as brand makers, not just takers
Consumers have always used brands in “unauthorized” ways, giving products and services a personal tweak, adding new functionalities or creating a new occasion or application for them. Just think about car tuners laying the foundation for new options car manufacturers can offer, or mums making M&M’s or Nutella pies for their children. It is surprising that most companies hardly embrace such consumer-driven innovation, regarding consumers merely as takers of their products and services, not as potential makers of their future.
Nevertheless, treating consumers as extrapreneurs is beneficial for brands in many different ways. First, extrapreneurs by definition take a more external perspective versus entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, as they see reality in a different light and connect the dots between what they experience and what they see happening in a broader context. By making connections across companies and brands, they can spread ideas and solutions much in the same way as bees pollinating flowers.
Second, as extrapreneurs identify so strongly with the brands they want to help out, their “expert user” status allows them to understand like no one else how to create customer relevance.
Finally, extrapreneurs exhibit a positive “self-selection bias” which brands can benefit from: their brand love ensures the right level of intrinsic commitment, motivation and energy to make a real difference.
The time is now
Over the last decade, we have witnessed an ever-increasing consumer emancipation as a result of the surge of social media (so consumers can raise their voices), the Internet of Things (so consumers can know more about themselves and the products they use), crowdfunding (so consumers with great ideas can get funded), the sharing economy (so consumers can access available products and resources they don’t need to own), and the maker space (so consumers themselves can create the products they want).
Given these new consumer “powers,” we are about to witness a boost in extrapreneurial activities. Also, extrapreneurship can solve the friction between, on the one hand, younger generations who are willing to start their own business but face risks and resource limitations; and on the other hand, companies that need to re-invent themselves but lack the necessary mindset and conditions to do so. A win-win situation results from bringing both parties to the table in a collaborative operating model.
Finally, knowing the majority of people worldwide would not care if 73 percent of brands disappeared tomorrow (Meaningful Brands, Havas Media Group), brands are in desperate need of an extra force to help them stay future-proof. While the path of intrapreneurship is promising, it also has limitations, with on average only 13 percent of employees actively engaged in the companies they work for (Gallup).
Companies are making a start
One of the best-known examples of extrapreneurship is LEGO Ideas; but other companies are taking similar initiatives. A great one I discovered on a recent tour of Silicon Valley is TechShop. Its mission is to accelerate global innovation by allowing anyone (from the age of 8!) to use a wide range of sophisticated and expensive tools to make things.
While TechShop applies a subscription-based pricing model for its community members to access its stores, the entrepreneurial dimension is that governments and companies such as GE, BMW, Fujitsu or Intel are structural sponsors of TechShop, as they understand everyday people can make a contribution to their futures as well.
Made.com is another example. With its tagline “Great design direct from the makers,” the company connects over 100,000 consumers, with renowned designers such as Damien Hirst, James Harrison, and Alison Cork acting as extrapreneurs, bringing luxury home design to consumers at accessible prices.
The World Wildlife Fund also embraces a culture of extrapreneurship as it reaches out to tourism and more specifically to adventure travel (their classic “enemy!”) to contribute directly to the conservation of the places they visit.
Still a long way to go
Embracing a culture of extrapreneurship means creating the necessary conditions for co-design, co-creation and co-ownership with outside stakeholders. A first condition is to bridge the collaboration divide. Despite the fact that extrapreneurs are ready to start collaborating with brands, only a minority of companies invite them in.
Second, brands need to move beyond opportunistic, tactical reasons (e.g. PR or sales) to work together with the outside. Instead, they should embed extrapreneurs in their businesses as strategic partners or, even better, real shareholders.
Third, only too often reciprocity is lacking, with consumers giving and brands taking, which is illustrated by the unilateral term “crowdsourcing.” Brands need to think more deliberately about the “what is in it for me” for extrapreneurs: access to specific products or services, information or other benefits, revenue sharing or getting company shares.
By applying their extraordinary forces, extrapreneurs can give your brand the “extra” it needs. I hope you will invite them to the party soon!
Want more strategies to nurture customer relationships? See Empathy, Design Thinking, And A Obsession With Customer-Centric Innovation.Comments