Using the terms “ENTREPRENEURS,” “INTRAPRENEURS,” and “ENGINEERS,” within the context of engineering profession, a Pyramidal image (Tetrahedron) is proposed which is separated into three horizontal sections (see image below).
The bottom section represents Engineering Graduates (i.e. the most recent graduate engineers who are rookies in the field).
The somewhat smaller middle section represents those Graduate Engineers who actually become intrapreneurs while still working for their respective employers. These are “INTRAPRENEURIAL ENGINEERS.” (Scroll to Part-2 of this article).
The smallest, upper-most section represents those Graduate or Intrapreneurial Engineers who become Entrepreneurs. These are “ENTREPRENEURIAL ENGINEERS.” (Scroll to Part-3 of this article).
Observing the defining attributes of each categories of Engineers (as stated above) comes with the intention of motivating engineers to also develop Entrepreneurial Behaviors as well as Entrepreneurial Intentions that can propel them to reach the upper class using the metrics of Technical Fundamentals, Customer Awareness, Business Acumen, and Societal Values.
Going forward, let’s observe each section with their defining attributes.
The Bottom Section: ENGINEERS
>> The base section of the pyramid represents most engineers who are recent university or college graduates. In the traditional sense, these folks are the rookies of the profession.
>> These Engineers have developed intellectual capacities, they are tool-carrying, technical problem solvers. They excel in problem analysis and design synthesis. Good engineers can artistically express and apply mathematics and science through their problem solutions.
>> They are skilled in knowing what to do and how to do it once the problem has been described to them.
>> They are problem solvers, not problem seekers! They tend to have little to no interest in interacting with the external stakeholders of the company, the end-user, the customers.
>> They are mostly Left Brainers with little or no soft/social/people skills.
>> They also tend to be happy working for large to medium-sized companies where long-term job security is more likely available when compared to small or startup companies.
>> They tend to be motivated by having an intellectually challenging job for which they are adequately compensated; and, by nature, they tend not to be risk takers.
The Middle Section: ENGINEERS WHO ARE INTRAPRENEURS.
>> These engineers become intrapreneurs and desired to be engaged in more of the creative and innovative processes for new product development and implementation of novel improvement.
>> Intrapreneurial Engineers are motivated to change the rules of competitive engagement.
>> They can redefine the boundaries of competition by leveraging the core competencies of their employer into new market areas thereby helping their employers to gaining a broader market share.
>> Intrapreneurs have strong desire to speak directly to end-use customers of the company. They think first in terms of improving company’s product values & benefits, not just their features.
>> This level of customer engagement enables intrapreneurs to learn the unspoken needs of their customers through observation of compensatory behaviors or by observing ways in which technology may be applied to improve life for their customers (anticipatory gestures).
>> These engineers will be risk-neutral to risk-seeking in their personal philosophy; they will be comfortable with risks and uncertainties.
>> They will be able to make decisions with incomplete information.
>> Because they understand the importance of time to market, they are often able to work longer productive hours, and do whatever it takes to get the job done.
>> They will be great and highly functional members of a team, and with experience, they evolve into project leaders of any product development team.
The Top Section: ENGINEERS WHO ARE ENTREPRENEURS
>> These are far smaller number of engineering graduates, or intrapreneurs who are able to seek for opportunities for superior value creation. They yarn to be market innovators and disruptors.
>> Usually, they are great managers and great leaders. They are motivated (even more than intrapreneurs) to redefine the rules of competitive engagement, redefine the boundaries of competition, or create entirely new markets through the application of disruptive technologies.
>> The concepts of risk management, competitive advantage, business process optimization, collaboration, synergy, and business development, etc, are well understood by this set of workers.
>> Because they have great leadership skills and can share or communicate effectively, the are able to express clearly the vision of their organization’s future to their constituencies in understandable terms.
>> Like intrapreneurs, they will do whatever it takes to develop a product that will meet or exceed their customers’ requirements.
>> They have strong entrepreneurial orientation, ethical behavior, and professionalism.
>> They care so much about their organization’s financial position (e.g. cash flow) & health.
>> They can translate and report operational and/or project field challenges from technical perspective into financial terms in such a manner that will spur urgent attention of both the senior management and board of directors.
As a result of the identified gaps in the orientation of a typical engineer, and the need for a 21st century engineer to meet up with the 21st century marketplace expectation, there has been increasing global calls by employers of engineering talents for a new “engineering education paradigm” designed to balance the strong technical skill sets of engineers with integrative, contextual, empathetic, teamwork, and communication skill sets that can help engineers develop entrepreneurial behaviors, and support their entrepreneurial intention.
While attaining and truly justifying the status of an entrepreneurial engineer, it is also the desire of every engineer to:
1.) Become more valued assets, be highly sought after in job market, and grow beyond the curve of industry standard.
2.) Occupy positions of great prominence, influence, and leadership in career & business.
3.) Transform technical knowledge & wealth of experience into financially rewarding & successful entrepreneurial ventures.
4.) Escape the widely dreaded “restructuring, downsizing, and/or right-sizing” exercises that are far becoming commonplace in today’s global and highly competitive economy.
In order to prevent and stem the tides of engineers becoming mere commodities for solving problems in the business world, the field of engineering must rethink its current methodologies and systems of teaching, and revisit the prerequisite education and training required for both rookies and professional practicing engineers. This is to say that engineering institutions, authorities, and regulators must see into how they can help integrate the skills and attributes of entrepreneurship and innovative thinking into engineering education and practices, but without sacrificing technical depth.
To achieve the above, and to really deliver truly as entrepreneurial engineers, the prerequisite will be far beyond the technical abilities of today’s engineers.
A great need for expanding the core of engineering learning from pure technical core to a better and preferred techno-preneurial core is required.
Going forward therefore, engineering education needs to accomplish two objectives:
1.) Teach engineering students what engineers need to know (i.e. statics, dynamics, mechanics, materials, thermodynamics, etc.) – These are the common denominator of success of an average engineer, and also represents the bulk of left-brain activities that are best handled by engineers.
2.) Help the students to start to think like engineers (i.e., to design; be creative; understand needs, long & short term costs; social and environmental cost impacts; communication; professional ethics, etc.). These are the uncommon denominator of success of entrepreneurially minded engineers, and represents the bulk of right-brain activities that are best handled by innovative and creative problem seekers/solvers.
To my tribe in the engineering profession, the question is “Where do you belong within the model described above?”
The message is that even when you’re gainfully employed, you can exhibit entrepreneurial behaviors that will help you stand-out and become a force to reckon with in the business world.
Remember, Entrepreneurship has been so hyped to mean a subject and/or practice of self-employment alone while losing the focus of the main tools of innovation and driving force of value creation involved.
(To be continued)
(Reviewed from KEEN – Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network)
Engr Ayodeji Onabanjo, MNSE
(Committed To Identifying, Nurturing, and Developing Entrepreneurially Minded Engineers)