Improved Leadership. Competitive Advantage.

On first blush, this question seems ridiculous—maybe even absurd. In fact, we asked this very question to some talented managers last month. Some answers were predictable; others, not so much. One leader stated, “This is nuclear power, and we need to treat it with respect. However, we also need different ways of thinking to solve problems AND account for risk and safety.” So, let’s get the easy stuff out of the way.

Entrepreneurs often, and rightly so, get labeled as risk takers. Clearly, there’s not a lot of room to take risks in a nuclear power station, rail yard, or refinery. Those very organizations are primed to do just the opposite—control for and eliminate, when possible, any risks. At ELP, we won’t argue that—at all.

However, maybe there are other dimensions of entrepreneurship that could be ‘atplay’ in high hazard organizations. First, entrepreneurs are known to be creative problem solvers. While others may think in similar, linear fashions, successful entrepreneurs bring a diversity of views and thoughts to a problem. In high-hazard organizations, the problems can be complex. As a result, solutions sometimes need to be creative. Perhaps, the best way to know if your problem-solving is stale is to look at reoccurring problems. Clearly, the previous solutions weren’t working. These situations often demand out-of-the-box solutions to put them to bed—for good. By the way, entrepreneurs are often quite nimble and can move on a dime. Taking too long to identify or resolve a problem, common in many large organizations, violates the essence of entrepreneurship.

Second—and for some reason, many overlook this—they stand for continual improvement. They will take a product or a service and improve it at the margins. When even marginal improvements are enacted, they can charge a market premium. Of all the entrepreneurs that we’ve met (and we are part of that sample!), the most successful have an unerring—almost fanatical—devotion to continual improvement. They reject the status quo. Again, the reason is simple. Any improvement, no matter how slight, usually involves more profits. We are not alone in assuming that all high-hazard organizations, whether nuclear, oil, or rail, could benefit from this continual improvement mindset.

Finally, entrepreneurs and small business owners watch every cent because, often, it is their money—not other people’s money. With that, small business owners often possess a nuanced appreciation for value. In high regulatory environments, are we making smart decisions—ones that add value? Do we treat money and investments as if the business were our own? Maybe we all should do a better job here.

So, while on the surface, it may seem like running a small business and a nuclear power station are worlds apart, they may be much closer than they appear. Entrepreneurs and small business owners are a different breed. Moving forward, high-hazard organizations, such as nuclear power stations, may improve by allocating just a bit of their organizational mind-set to an entrepreneurial orientation.