[su_pullquote align=”right”]By Amadou LÔ [/su_pullquote]
Order or disorder? Stability or flexibility? Control or ‘laissez faire’? Issues linked to the management of long-term collective action have long been presented in a binary logic where choice fell within the scope of exclusivity. Today more than ever, the development of competitive strategies involves a logic suited to economic dynamics whose trends appear contradictory at first glance. At the same time, the evolution of collaborative practices and spaces are playing an important role in the transformation of our ways of working. The company Fab Lab is a manifestation of this which is interesting to analyse.
What is a company Fab Lab?
Recently, a new collaborative workspace dedicated to exploration was born: the Fab Lab. The Fabrication Laboratory  – commonly abbreviated to Fab Lab – is a workshop given over to innovation and rapid prototyping. It’s a space where people are free to come and go, swap ideas in a non-formal setting. The Fab Lab was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) by professor Neil Gershenfeld in the 2000s. It’s a place that’s open to all, complete with equipment ranging from simple – like a soldering iron – to very sophisticated – like a 3D printer or a laser cutter. Creative and prototyping activities emerge through the interactions of an active community made up of individuals with a range of skills. This all takes place without hierarchies or orders being given.
Originally, Fab Labs were open areas, free and independent facilities located in community settings, whether educational or open to the general public. Up until now, this type of facility existed only in this form. Today, though, big businesses are getting interested in the concept and wish to put it to use in their own organisations in order to stimulate innovation. By opening its exploratory activities to members of production teams, the company Fab Lab poses an interesting challenge: how to reconcile employee production activities and exploratory activities. We worked within the innovation directorate of the French car manufacturer Renault, which has been a pioneer of this process since 2011.
The company Fab Lab, a chance for employees to explore
The Renault Group operates an internal Fab Lab which is a carrier for the upstream phase of the innovation process which is transversal to Renault’s matrix organisation. This process is defined as a regulatory process for all the “vehicle projects,” using precise signposting and a formal distinction in the distribution of functions. However, the people belonging to units of this process dedicated to production activities have complained about poor access to exploration activities.
The Fab Lab was therefore developed within Renault with the aim of bringing new opportunities for employees to get involved in exploratory activities alongside their usual activities. Through its location, its charter, its activities and its digitally-operated machines and tools, the company Fab Lab aspires to be a codified space which is also inclusive and permissive. It was conceived to be directly accessible by employees, so that they can individually carry out exploration activities alongside their production activities, ie, develop their individual ambidexterity.
Practices promoting employee ambidexterity within the company Fab Lab
We have been able to put forward four main practices (table) which characterise the Fab Lab and which explain the emergence of this dynamic: improvisation, innovative design, DIY and rapid prototyping.
Table – practices promoting employee ambidexterity within the company Fab Lab
|Practices within the Fab Lab||Promoting employee ambidexterity||Employee comments|
|Adopting a heuristic process and offering employees the chance to adapt their projects at any time||“Ah, but we didn’t have a model.. I tell you, I went in convinced it had to be done, but we took our first steps with enthusiasm”.|
|Innovative design||Offering employees methodological support in their creative and innovative activities||“We need people who have time to help us get into this deeply, and that’s where I can see that it’s very complementary. We’re more on the operational side, so there are things that we might miss, with the Fab Lab methods, we can get a wider and deeper perspective, and because of that we come up with different ideas than we would usually.”|
By manipulating and reorganising what is available, individuals learn to cope with a lack of resources and surmount conceptual obstacles “by doing”
|“People who try to explain things with slides when they’ve never even touched the products they’re talking about are fooling themselves! You need to touch things, see them, put them to use. And the Fab Lab helps us with that, with making little models very quickly, with creating little processes very quickly, and to turn our ideas into reality.”|
Through activities that bring ideas to life and accelerate the development of innovative projects
|“And what also happened here is that we have a concept that’s a bit complicated and which we can’t get to ripen, and that’s when Eric went to see someone at the Fab Lab, and they created a scenario and a model with the 3D printer which showed exactly what we wanted to do.”|
Our results show that the company Fab Lab constitutes a space conducive to exploration which supports employees wishing to carry out innovative projects alongside their usual production tasks.
It’s a space conducive to social interaction, open to all and all occupations, giving employees the opportunity to organise their time as they wish, between their usual occupation and their exploratory projects. Through this structure, employees get support for their exploratory activities, in the form of the practices we have highlighted – DIY, improvisation, prototyping and innovative design. The Fab Lab acts as an additional support alongside ordinary work, thus rectifying the lack of exploratory activities for employees. It therefore constitutes a facility for the development of employee ambidexterity.
As a physical space lending itself to social interaction, it is open to all and to all types of occupations, offering employees the chance to freely organise their time between their usual production activities and their exploratory projects. This facility allows employees to avail of assistance for their exploratory activities in the form of the practices already highlighted – DIY, improvisation, prototyping and innovative design. So the Fab Lab offers support that complements the workers’ ordinary activity by fulfilling employees’ need for exploratory activities. It therefore constitutes a facility which allows employees to develop ambidexterity.
The in-house Fab Lab offers an opportunity for businesses to use the digital revolution to deal with and adapt to the ever-changing environment of the markets and innovative practice. By offering employees in production units the chance to carry out exploratory activities, we’ve seen that the in-house Fab Lab plays the role of a valuable tool and a support for emerging employee ambidexterity. It takes the form of a safe space for exploratory activities and offers every employee the chance to manage their own work, between production and exploration, and hence to become ambidextrous.
We saw that when offering employees in production roles the opportunity to carry out exploratory activities, the internal Fab Lab is a useful tool and a support to the emergence of employee ambidexterity.
[su_spoiler title=”Methodology”]Table 1 summarises our collection methodology and the analysis of our research.
Synthesis of the methodological framework of our research
|Our research was qualitative. The case study being the preferred methodological approach for exploring and understanding a complex phenomenon, we carried out a single, illustrative case study as part of this exploratory and descriptive research. Faced with the inherent complexity of our research subject and therefore the difficulty of drawing firm conclusions, we opted for an abductive reasoning process.|
|Data collection and processing method|
|We worked with Renault from September 2013 and we stopped gathering in June 2014 – a period of 10 months. However, our collaboration is ongoing. Everyone was aware of our research activities, so we opted for the observer-participator model because the aim was to understand Renault’s innovation processes on three levels: the official version, the employee version, and our own observations. Thus, our empirical work is based on semi-directed interviews carried out with different players in the company (managers, Fab Lab members, innovation specialists and non-specialists). Over 43 days at the site, we carried out 42 semi-directed interviews of an average duration of 1 hour and 26 minutes, all recorded and transcribed in their entirety. We also kept a working journal where we were able to note the context of our observations during the creativity sessions and meetings we attended. Finally, we had access to a number of internal documents which allowed us to get to grips with the way the business is organised. Our data collection therefore adheres to the principal of data triangulation, and is therefore valid as a research framework.|
[su_pullquote align=”right”]By Michaël Laviolette[/su_pullquote]
It seems that every day, the media is full of examples of entrepreneurs and their success stories. They are often presented as heroic characters whose prowess leads most often to successful outcomes, and rarely to unsuccessful ones.
These entrepreneurs are therefore held up as exemplary rôle models according to a concept developed by Albert Bandura, social psychologist and expert in the theory of social learning.
In entrepreneurship, the impact of rôle models is significant because they offer examples which impact on the potential and the intention to engage in entrepreneurship. Many of today’s business people say they took their first steps in entrepreneurship after observing or being influenced by a rôle model. Often, it was someone in their close circle (friend, relative, etc). These are real-life rôle models. But what about symbolic rôle models? By this, we mean people we never actually meet, but whose stories we can identify with. For students, it might be the testimony of Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard graduate, that they saw in a newspaper, or a former student of a ‘grande école’ turned entrepreneur they hear at a conference. How do these symbolic models influence our own students’ intention to engage in entrepreneurship, depending on whether their stories are of success or failure? What impact do they have relative to certain characteristics (sex, previous experience, etc) of the people exposed to their stories?
We will look at these issues in the educational context because teachers use a lot of these rôle models in the form of testimonies, quotes or case studies. At a time when experiential learning is the order of the day in business schools, these models are being used prescriptively to show the path to follow or not follow when engaging in entrepreneurship. Are these professors’ persuasive tactics effective? What is their impact on student self-efficacy and their intention to be entrepreneurial? In other words, let’s focus on those who are looking at the model, rather than the model itself.
A number of experiments were carried out involving 276 students in a French business school. Some students had been exposed earlier to success or failure stories of former students turned businesspeople. Other groups heard the stories along with a message of encouragement from their tutors. In keeping with the literature, we tested several main and secondary hypotheses of this causal chain which begins with student attitudes to the rôle models’ messages and ends with their intention to engage in entrepreneurship.
Our results were published in three articles in the Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour and Research, in the Revue Internationale PME and in the Journal of Enterprising Culture. The first article 2 reveals that symbolic entrepreneur models, whether of success of failure, had a significant impact on students’ intentions to engage in entrepreneurship. The more positive the students’ attitude to the message, the more they were affected or moved by these stories. This “emotional awakening” reinforces their perception of their capacity to be entrepreneurs (‘entrepreneurial self-efficacy’) and, ultimately, their intention to engage in entrepreneurship. We can therefore validate the central hypothesis of the impact of these symbolic models. Positive messages increase the intention to engage, while negative messages reduce it.
However, these effects change depending on the sex of the person receiving the message. Men are more influenced by models of success than women are. The latter are more influenced by negative models. This difference is explained by social norms which exemplify entrepreneurship as an eminently masculine activity. Indeed, men identify more easily with models of success. This upward and positive comparison comes easier to them. Women, on the other hand, have more difficulty identifying with female entrepreneurs and they are more affected by stories of failure. The downward and negative comparison unfortunately comes more easily to them.
The fact that the impact of the messages varies according to the recipient leads us to envisage two persuasive communication tactics in class. It’s important to expose students to both success and failure stories in order to avoid idealising entrepreneurship. It’s also important to emphasise positive models at the expense of negative ones. For the sake of realism, the latter are not to be banned but the lecturer should play a moderating rôle to ensure that the failure models are not too discouraging.
The second article 3 focuses more on the rôle of teacher encouragement when students receive these testimonies of success or failure, As well as the entrepreneurs’ messages, we exposed our students to a second message of encouragement from the teacher, reformulating the messages in order to reinforce their effects.
We thought that this persuasive tactic would strengthen the impact of the initial message if it was positive and weaken it if it was negative. However, the results show that the encouragement discourages rather than encourages when its content is identical whether the receivers are men or women. A finer analysis of the results nonetheless shows interesting differences according to the sex of the students receiving the message.
Although a distraction effect can’t be ruled out with the second message, the principal explanation can be found in Brehm’s reactance theory. When a student is exposed to the message of an individual with whom s/he identifies (a former student), s/he is free to attribute any value s/he wishes to it. On the other hand, when a lecturer intervenes to try to convince or persuade, s/he reduces his or her freedom of interpretation. Indeed, students can re-establish their autonomy by resisting the lecturer’s remarks.
However, reactance is stronger among men than women. This difference can also be explained by social norms which construct entrepreneurship as a fundamentally masculine activity. Encouraged by these norms, men are likely to express an opinion contrary to that of the lecturer to express their free will even if they really think the same thing. For women, the lecturer’s encouragement is sought in order to confirm their opinion and to gain social approval. Indeed, our research shows that lecturer encouragement is more beneficial when female students are exposed to female rôle models.
Our articles also show that in order to understand the impact of rôle models, the characteristics of the recipients (sex, in this case) are important. Thus, our third article 4 focuses on the moderating effects of the characteristics of the recipients, notably self-esteem, locus of control, and previous experience. The locus of control is our feeling that events are within our control or not. Previous experience is students’ past experience of entrepreneurship.
Our results show that the better the students’ self-esteem, locus of internal control and previous experience, the less the recipient is impacted by the message. Indeed, students with high self-esteem and a belief in their capacity to control what happens to them, are naturally less influenced by external models. In other words, they rely more on their own resources in order to believe in their capacity to engage in enterprise, and ultimately, to decide to create.
In contrast, students with weak self-esteem, a weak locus of internal control and weak experience are more influenced by external models. Indeed, these students have a greater need to look for external validation to compensate for the weakness of their own belief in their own capacity for enterprise. These results round off our analyses by showing that it’s just as important to analyse the profile of the recipients if we want to understand the impact of the messages.
What conclusions should be drawn from our studies of the relationship between rôle models and the intention to engage in entrepreneurship in the educational context? First of all, they validate the importance of these models for students’ capacity and intention to engage in entrepreneurship, even if they are only symbolic. They also underline that a variety of models of both failure and success is crucial to offering more credible representations to a student audience. Nonetheless, these rôle models do not impact men and women in the same way.
In view of the predominance of masculine models of entrepreneurship, it is important to temper the impact of these models using lecturer encouragement tactics, particularly for female students. Nonetheless, it should be noted that this encouragement is not effective for men who are often more confident in their own capacity for enterprise. Finally, on the whole, these models have a greater impact on students who doubt their capacity for enterprise due to their weak self-esteem, weak locus of internal control and weak experience.
In conclusion, this research confirms that a single model of entrepreneurial success is not the most effective method for every audience. A plurality of models is needed to convince a diverse audience. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as Oscar Wilde reminded us. Look at the model but above all, look at the person who is observing it.
[su_spoiler title=”Approach”]This article synthesizes our work on the influence of role models on students’ intention to engage in entrepreneurship. The work was undertaken jointly with Olivier Brunel, Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the Lyon School of Management (IAE de Lyon) and Miruna Radu-Lefebvre, Professor of Entrepreneurship and chair of Family Business and Society (Entreprise Familiale et Société) at Audiencia Business School, Nantes.[/su_spoiler]
[su_pullquote align=”right”]By Servane Delanoë-Gueguen[/su_pullquote]
When looking at business creation, people tend to take more interest in the project than in the entrepreneur behind it. However, starting a business has strong personal implications. Assessments of personalized support programs would be more relevant if they paid greater attention to gauging how entrepreneurs feel about their ability to see their project through to completion, particularly as regards the strategic and financial aspects.
What drives someone to want to start a company? Obviously there is the initial project, which may or may not result in the creation of a start-up, but above all there is the individual behind the project, the budding entrepreneur, who will end up transformed by the experience, whatever the result. The process is a form of apprenticeship, during which the business creator acquires new skills, develops new ways of looking at things, and builds networks. If the individuals manage to create their business, this personal transformation will provide them with valuable skills for the company’s development. If not, they will be able to draw on these newly-acquired skills to prepare an entrepreneurial project later in life, or to use their new knowledge working for someone else.
Taking greater interest in the perceived abilities rather than the number of creations
People with new business projects do not have to go through the process alone. They are even encouraged to participate in support programs, which may have a profound impact on the project as well as the person behind it. Unfortunately, when assessing such programs, this personal dimension is rarely taken into account: to evaluate their effectiveness, we tend to focus on the participants’ satisfaction with the program or the fact that they managed to create their business, but not on the effects that the programs have had on the budding entrepreneurs. Our study looked at people participating in a support program set up by Brittany Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CCI). The aim of the study was specifically to analyze this personal impact. Rather than focusing on the project leader’s actual skills, we studied their perceived entrepreneurial self-efficacy , i.e. how the individuals perceived their ability to create a business.
This perceived entrepreneurial self-efficacy – originally developed in the field of psychology – is a key determining factor in the process of creating a company, because not feeling capable can be a major obstacle. If properly evaluated, it can even foster the entrepreneur’s tenacity in the face of difficulties. However, this remains a perceived ability, which is not necessarily representative of the actual ability; indeed, certain individuals have a tendency to underestimate their abilities whereas others overestimate them. Finally, the perception can change, according to four major influences: personal experience, observation of others, verbal persuasion by third parties and emotional state.
The shock of reality
The study sought to measure the change in the perceived self-efficacy of budding entrepreneurs who took part in a support program by interviewing them at the beginning of the project, and then a year later. While we might expect participation in a personalized support program to have a positive effect on entrepreneurial self-efficacy (that is to say, the project leaders feel more capable of creating their company), the results of the study actually show an overall decrease in self-efficacy. If we look in more detail, the only positive impact was on entrepreneurial administrative self-efficacy – concerning the planning of the project and formalities – whereas perceptions related to strategy and finance tended to deteriorate.
These results can be explained by what we could term a “reality check”. At the start of the process, many budding entrepreneurs think that the administrative side is highly complex and focus on this aspect; then they realize that this is not actually the most complicated aspect, particularly since a number of measures have simplified business-start-up procedures over recent years. At the same time, they start to realize how difficult it is to find customers and funding, that there are competitors in the market, and that they never have enough time to do everything. All these aspects are often under-estimated when they build their project.
However surprising it may be, this result shows the value of having an objective assessment of start-up support programs, by focusing on the personal impacts: the aim of support programs is to help people with start-up projects set up viable businesses and understand the realities of the market, not to simply ensure that the majority of the individuals actually start their businesses. With this in mind, it is not necessarily a bad thing for prospective business creators to feel less capable at the end of the process than at the beginning. Participants who ultimately decide not to start their business, after appreciating the importance of having a customer base and a network, have the opportunity to ask themselves the right questions, to readjust their perceived ability, and sometimes realize they are simply not made to be entrepreneurs. They will be better equipped for the next project, or at least thy will have more realistic perceptions.
A practical tool for improving programs
This evaluation method is a valuable tool for improving support programs, with practical uses that can be taken advantage of almost immediately. For example, it may be interesting to adopt a differentiated approach depending on whether the people at the start of the program underestimate or overestimate their ability to create a company, in order to help them reach a more realistic self-perception. In relation to the case analyzed in this study, the support programs could focus more on strategic issues and funding.
These results are a step towards achieving an objective assessment of support mechanisms for budding entrepreneurs. Now, it would be useful to fine-tune the results with a more representative sample group of budding entrepreneurs and extend the research to different types of support initiatives.
[su_note note_color=”#f8f8f8″]Servane Delanoë-Gueguen is a research professor in entrepreneurship and business strategy in Toulouse Business School. She is responsible for the TBSeeds incubator and is joint Head of the “entrepreneur” vocational option. She has a PhD in emerging entrepreneurship from the Open University (UK). Her research focuses on budding entrepreneurs, entrepreneurial ecosystems, business-creation support programs, entrepreneurial desire and business incubation. This publication is a summary of the article “Aide à la création d’entreprise et auto-efficacité entrepreneuriale” (Support for business creation and entrepreneurial self-efficacy”) published in 2015 in theRevue de l’entrepreneuriat.[/su_note]
[su_spoiler title=”Methodology”]Within the framework of her research, Servane Delanoë-Gueguen conducted a longitudinal study. Based on a literature review, she developed a theoretical model with 3 research hypotheses concerning the evolution of entrepreneurial self-efficacy over the course of one year concerning individuals with business start-up projects involved in a support program, who had ultimately created their business or not, with gender differentiation. The model was then tested with a group of budding entrepreneurs. In the first year, a total of 506 people answered a questionnaire to assess their perception of their entrepreneurial abilities. The following year, she managed to re-contact 394 of the people concerned, of whom 325 had a genuine start-up project in progress. Out of this group, 193 people answered the questionnaire again. [/su_spoiler]