People find it challenging to stand up to the dark anxieties and tensions that arise such as conflict, power fights and all kinds of dilemmas. On top of this, people can find it difficult to manage and embrace the emotions that arise, including fear, distrust, and uncertainty. Anxieties and tensions are bound to emerge in venture building, so entrepreneurs need to address them early on whenever they arise and whomever they concern - whether it’s internal team members or external stakeholders. Embracing and managing -in a creative way- anxieties and tensions is one of the most crucial success factors in venture building.
When we talk about venture building and business innovation, we tend to focus on the launch of exciting new products, creating high-energy teams, disruptive gambles that pay off, and personal success stories. But this is not the full story of entrepreneurship. Comparatively, the inevitable difficult, tough moments and worrying periods of the venture building game are rarely talked about. We don’t train our teams, leaders and organizations to embrace these dark anxieties, dynamics and tensions, reflect on them more openly and handle them with creativity. With not training our teams and leaders for inevitable dynamics we limit the success of our venture building activities and therefore cannot create the business impact that we aim for. By ignoring this we don’t really take care of our most important source of successful innovation: the people. We don’t teach our entrepreneurs how to manage the negative impacts on their emotional well-being. Just imagine how it would be if ‘dark’ anxieties, tensions and emotions, which are inevitable on the daring and risky journey of innovation, are seen and managed as rich, fruitful resources where a lot of information, creativity and powerful energies come from.
For venture builders at large corporations, tensions, anxieties and emotions are everywhere. They have to consider three apparent contradictions. Firstly, entrepreneurs are trying to re-shape things independently, autonomous at institutions oriented around control. They are embarking on a new personal and business adventure where the institution seems to stay where it is. Secondly, they are likely to be highly emotionally invested in their new proposals: their personal passion and investment is rewarding: it gives meaning to your work. But at the same time the passionate journey is a source full of stress: you have to deliver and you can come in conflict. In addition to this, intrapreneurs have to deal with stresses surrounding money and launching new products. When money is involved, the stakes are higher, especially when you are scaling up. The stress can pile up. And thirdly, a monolithic corporation is set up to resist change where the entrepreneur wants change. This results in businesses breaking away from old processes and creating new ones but it is also reflected in a shift within the traditional corporate power balance. Suddenly intrapreneurs are having investment meetings with a VP or even CEO that they have never talked with before.
These three apparently contradictory tensions represent an innovation paradox, which enables a darker side of corporate innovation to arise. Crucially, entrepreneurs need to recognize these tensions and emotions that arise with them; not ignore them. When they identify and manage friction before it becomes a more serious problem, it is not only better for the individual’s and the teams’ mental health, energy and working atmosphere, they will see better business results as well. When you take a closer look at the dark side of your venture building process you will become aware of how many impactful tensions, emotions and anxieties there are to be taken care of:
- Pursuing the new adventure in an environment designed to produce and avoid risk
Venture teams crave autonomy - to be able to pursue new ideas and take risks - but, at the same time, they exist within the controlled environment of their wider corporation. Businesses, of course, want to give individuals the freedom to make their own decisions but they also want to fit new ideas within existing processes and make sure they are scalable.
For entrepreneurs - or intrapreneurs - conflicts can easily arise with the management domain. Autonomous entrepreneurs and regulated corporations can co-exist but it does take work. Do you handle the (potential) conflict(s) creatively and with surgical precision or stay all those involved frozen in ‘it is them against me/us’ syndrome? Does the conflict end in congealed suspicion and in unproductive organizational trench wars or do you as a venture team still have the emotional bandwidth, space and energy to find creative ways to collaborate successfully?
What this means for intrapreneurs is that they must possess a certain tolerance for fear, uncertainty and distrust, all of which will inevitably arise not only within teams, but also between teams and external stakeholders. How do you react if senior management does not buy-in with your progress? Disappointed? Angry? Will that make you more effective?
- Emotional investment
Understandably, entrepreneurs care passionately about their ventures. There are ups and downs, a great deal of uncertainty, and an awful lot of emotional investment. As a result, it is easy for entrepreneurs to relentlessly pursue growth - anything that prevents this or slows it down suddenly starts to look like an obstacle. Their innovative idea no longer seems like part of their job but as some sort of personal crusade.
Unfortunately, when your emotional investment and the organizational constraints and resistance boil over, the emerging personal tensions can lead to intense, one-sided irrational emotions and therefore to poor decision-making. Emotions and anxieties, particularly anger (even as far as hate), fear and stress, are among the key reasons for losing the capacity of being creative and for poor decision-making. These decisions may extend far beyond a poorly-worded email or slamming a meeting-room door - they may have profound long-term effects on your venture team and business.
- Break old processes and create new ones
Within a corporate setting, there are a host of different divisions, such as legal, HR, or marketing teams from the existing business. These could potentially get in the way of a new venture successfully scale up. These teams do not (always) set out to hinder new ideas, they are just looking after their own particular part of the business. This, too, can lead to conflict, so innovators must get supporting business functions on board with any new ideas as early as possible. Instead of viewing these business divisions as impediments, venture builders need to work with them to turn problems into solutions. Instead of saying, “It can’t be done,” ask how it can be done instead.
Manage the visible and subliminal (unconscious) conflicts, anxieties and fears
Whether you work at a corporate or start-up, future-proofing your business relies on identifying potential conflicts ahead of time and managing them appropriately. Each individual is different (with their own, specific -irrational, personality or can we say ‘neuroses’ to contend with) but there are common techniques that you can employ to resolve tensions before they cause serious damage. Leo and Misha prepare entrepreneurs for potential anxiety- and conflict areas and helps them control (but not ignore) their anxieties, tensions and emotions. Too often we are not even fully aware of the impactful anxieties and emotions that determine our behaviour or that of our innovation teams. Just take a look at an emotion (or powerful anxiety) such as fear. It’s there all the time. In ourselves and our teams as it comes from 5 sources:
- Achieving team targets and goals;
- Risking real personal stakes (your job);
- Someone else’s (or your own) deeper ambitions, drives and desires;
- Social and human judgement and risk of losing human relations;
- Cultural beliefs/constraints and agony of conscience
Building a new venture can be very rewarding but it is also a difficult journey. It’s time we started talking about the conflicts that can arise and how we can train our intrapreneurs more effectively in personal leadership skills and anxiety- and conflict management. With the right support, these tensions can be used constructively to fuel the next stage of your business success story.