Recently I heard a corporate executive express optimism about the future of American politics because “nearly 18 percent of the candidates running for office are entrepreneurs.” He stated that: “With more entrepreneurs running, maybe we’ll get some problems solved.”

Intrigued by the perception that entrepreneurs are problem solvers, I wondered:

  • What are the unique skills entrepreneurs bring that promote problem-solving?
  • Do entrepreneurs have the temperament to navigate bureaucratic red tape?
  • If entrepreneurs are the engines of job creation and economic growth, is it a logical extension that entrepreneurs are aptly suited as decision-makers, policy-makers and economic development administrators?

Entrepreneurial Skills

In their book: “Leadership and Innovation: Entrepreneurs in Government,” authors Jameson W. Doig and Erwin C. Hargrove note the skills and strategies that effective leaders use to implement innovative ideas. Executives with an entrepreneurial mindset:

  • Set goals
  • Mobilize support inside and outside their organizations
  • Seek to impact society with a strong desire to “make a difference”
  • Risk their own careers to implement change

Thriving in Bureaucracy

Known for making it happen, it seems entrepreneurs might suffocate in a world of process, rules and strict guidelines. Yet, the challenges that drive innovation and new business also drive political process.

Both worlds invest in products and services people need.

Both worlds invest in customer discovery and grassroots buy-in.

Both worlds involve acceptance of failure combined with the capacity to forge forward.

Baruch Fischhoff, a professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Institute for Politics and Strategy explains that both political and business strategies are similar, but the strategies have vastly different ramifications.

Furthermore, Fischoff states: “In politics, compared to business, there are potentially many more people and issues that can affect how decisions are made and things turn out.”

That being the case, Shelley Metzenbaum, President of the Volcker Alliance at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, urges college graduates to consider careers as government entrepreneurs. Despite red tape and bureaucratic obstacles, Metzenbaum said the future of strengthening government’s capacity to “deliver in more effective, trusted ways” rests on the involvement of entrepreneurial-minded leaders.

In bringing about solutions that matter to Americans, government needs to embrace the process of innovation. “We need to integrate hypothesis formulations and testing into routine operations, bringing together performance measurement, quality management and evaluations. We (government) also need to learn better ways to replicate effective practices and achieve economies of scale in their delivery.”

Entrepreneurs as Policy-Makers

Too often, policymakers complain that government doesn’t work. It’s too slow, too bureaucratic, too burdened by procurement rules.

With the ability to employ a broad set of skills to problem-solving, creative thinking and a readiness to experiment, entrepreneurs could bring fresh thinking into the halls of government.

Harvard Business School senior lecturer Mitchell B. Weiss says, “We have many talented people in government, but by and large they have tended to be analysts and strategists, rather than inventors and builders.”

Weiss believes working in government is a viable alternative for innovators looking to effect real change.

“For 200 years, we’ve had a sense of how private entrepreneurship creates and delivers value. Public entrepreneurship is the opportunity to invent a difference in the world.”

What are your thoughts on entrepreneurs as policymakers? Let us know in the comment section below.