As I build a case for a social infrapreneurship movement, I figure that I ought to get specific about what I mean. Infrapreneurs (whose work supports the infrastructure that enables change within and between organizations) are different from intrapreneurs (who create change within an existing institution) and entrepreneurs (who create and lead new ventures). But they are all unified by one thing—what I like to call the “preneurial” spirit .
Let’s examine that root, “-preneur,” that unifies these different types of people. I believe there are three essential traits that characterize the preneur. He or she:
- Identifies market needs
- Aims for solutions, not Band-Aids
- Measures performance and adjusts as necessary
Identifies market needs
The preneur recognizes a gap in the market – whether a product or service – for which there exists demand (those who need the product or service) and supply (those who can provide the product or service). The preneur doesn’t create change for the sake of change; she creates change because there’s a need for change. And she creates that change with an eye to what is needed, and what is available to meet that need.
Aims for solutions, not Band-Aids
Another defining characteristic of the preneur is a focus on solving rather than applying short-term solutions to social problems. Rather than think of those as two distinct categories, I prefer to visualize a spectrum, with short-term solutions on the far left and long-term, sustainable solutions on the far right. Some products or services might aim to ameliorate a problem, but have the added benefit of tackling a root cause. Similarly, products or services that aim to solve a problem might have short-term, or Band-Aid-like benefits. The key is that the preneur positions his intervention closer to the right than left end, with a goal to move as far to the right as possible .
Measures Performance and Adjusts as Necessary
I think this is the most crucial of the three characteristics. In “The Meaning of ‘Social Entrepreneurship,’” J. Gregory Dees describes a process of “continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning” that’s central to social entrepreneurship. He describes social entrepreneurs as shifting resources from areas of low to high productivity and yield with an end goal not simply to meet or Band-Aid community needs, but to reduce the need for Band-Aids in the first place. Assessing progress through social, financial, and managerial outcomes, social entrepreneurs make course corrections as needed to do just that.
I would implore all those seeking the preneurial spirit inside of them to heed Dees’ model. Overwhelmed by the difficulty of capturing social impact, some people downplay the value of metrics. My perspective is that performance measurement can be as helpful or as complicated as you make it. When done well, it can reveal how well teams and individuals perform in relation to expectations. The process can be as simple as establishing a baseline, setting goals and benchmarks, and comparing actual progress to those goals. And then the crucial part: course-correcting as necessary. Since the preneur focuses on meeting a need, and since the preneur aims to solve for the long-term rather than Band-Aid, the preneur has vested interest in meeting performance goals that drive towards the ultimate vision.
These are my thoughts on the three characteristics of the preneur. What do you think? Have I missed a key trait of those with the preneurial spirit?
Photo credit: Kevin Dooley (Photo of the statue “Spirit” at ASU, which represents the entrepreneurial spirit.)