Thinking more inclusively can boost business

Every entrepreneur I have ever met, and that’s quite a few, has expressed on some level exasperation with the public for not getting what they are bringing to life. The best ones focus on educating their audiences; the ones who never breakthrough drivel in their exasperation.

To some extent, they are right. A car is not a faster horse. You had to think fundamentally differently to imagine a car in the era of horses, and then to roll them out into people’s lives. The future of entrepreneurship however will be more group activity than solitary whinge.

We live, for the first time in history, in a world where being part of a globally-interconnected group is the normal case for most citizens.

Clay Shirky, a leading thinker, argues in his second book “The Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age” that the internet’s lowered cost for group collaboration enables us to be innovative and generous in yet to be fully exploited ways.

Change, such as that of moving from horses to cars, happens when society moves from thinking of a crisis as bad to an asset. How can we organise ourselves better? Is there a more inclusive way of operating?

Shirky picks on the decline in the watching of television to explain that collaboration whether through facebook or wikipedia is on the rise. Humans want to do things together, and the energy which had been channelled into passive TV viewership has been unlocked. He calls this one example of the emerging overwhelming cognitive surplus.

The government’s Big Society campaign theme fits in nicely here. Gone are the passive receipt of what the state has in mind for you. Arriving soon are the ways that you co-create your common destiny with your fellow man, your neighbourhood, your civic society. Set up a school? Volunteer locally? Mentor the youth?

Overall, the most interesting insight I found in Shirky’s hypothesis is that more of life can be explained by accidents of history than immutable laws of nature. For those of us who enjoy asking “why not?” – we can smile.

So what’s the overall theme for business building? Enable participation at all levels. The winners are those firms who seek to build a better mousetrap by valuing and enabling everyone’s input into what that mousetrap should be like. Those firms leveraging the cognitive surplus of their people will achieve lift off sooner and more substantially.

Julie Meyer is chief executive of Ariadne Capital and a dragon on the BBC’s Online Dragon’s Den.