You may or may not be familiar with the term “intrapreneurship.” If you are, congratulations! If you aren’t—and especially if you work in an organization that isn’t a start-up—then it’s time to get up to speed or risk being left behind.

Last week I spent three days at the Intrapreneurship Conference in Toronto. I’ve followed Hans Balmaekers and his dedicated team for some time, so when I found out their global conference was going to be in my own backyard, I seized the opportunity to go.

And am I glad I did!

The conference provided an opportunity to tap into and learn from a global pool of experience and provided many opportunities to have fun, network, and engage in meaningful conversations. In attendance was a nice balance between newbie and expert intrapreneurs. They came from private, public and non-profit organizations, and included vendors and CEO’s, global and local innovation executives, and self-appointed and corporately supported intrapreneurs working on the front lines to create change and promote innovation.  Everyone I came across was hungry to learn and happy to share. I know that the conference last week won’t be the last time I hang out with these people, even if it means traveling abroad.

But wait!, you may say. Janice, you’re an innovation expert. Now you’re hanging out with intrapreneurs? What gives?

Disruption.

Innovation is about change or disrupting the status quo. Innovate or die, and all that good stuff. Intrapreneurs are the disruptors. Harness this disruption, along with the energy and talents of the disruptors, and you have purposeful innovation. Purposeful innovation requires an organization whose DNA is wired for innovation—check out my other blog post.

The concept of intrapreneurship has its roots in a white paper written by Gifford Pinchot and his wife Libba in 1978. So, while intrapreneurship is not a new idea, it’s an idea whose time has come given the challenges most established organizations are experiencing with innovation.

According to Gifford’s web site, intrapreneurs are people inside organizations who are:

  • Employees who do for corporate innovation what an entrepreneur does for his or her start-up
  • Dreamers who do
  • Self-appointed general managers of a new idea
  • Drivers of change to make business a force for good.

Judging from what I saw at the conference, intrapreneurs are also tenacious, dedicated, connected, and all too familiar with the risks associated with sticking their necks out to draw attention to ways an organization needs to change and innovate. Intrapreneurs engage in this work for many reasons, and mostly, I think you can sum it up by saying they have strong social values and see a need to promote the sustainability of organizations.

Indeed, while the concept of intrapreneurship is built on some of the same principles as entrepreneurship, being an intrepreneur is different than being an entrepreneur. While many entrepreneurs build a business with the goal of exiting it at some point in the future, intrapreneurs build to sustain a business and take it into new directions or new markets.

The irony is, sustainability comes through change and most organizations aren’t well-attuned to change or to change quickly.

Let me repeat that: sustainability comes through change.

Counter intuitive perhaps, but the fact that most organizations don’t get this is likely why the stats on the sustainability of S&P 500 companies are so grim. According to one statistic shared at the conference, 50% of the S&P 500 will be replaced by digital disruptors (Deloitte) in the next 10 years. Surviving and thriving in today’s world means organizations need to figure out how to change—how to disrupt themselves and their industry—otherwise, as Pinchot says, they become “roadkill.” With their focus on building to sustain a business, intrapreneurs are key to disruption within an organization—taking the business in new directions.

At the Intrapreneurship Conference, a central theme surfaced repeatedly: if you’re innovating, you’re disrupting the core businessthe thing people have spent a lifetime building. And these people don’t take well to having their life’s work picked apart, repurposed or shelved completely. Thus, in addition to disrupting, the job of an intrapreneur is to disrupt nicely. The intrapreneur socializes ideas and gets people to understand how to make the transition to a new state.

The work of an intrapreneur is never easy, and it’s often lonely, yet, they still find it within themselves to keep moving forward, even if it means going sideways or through a back door.

Before starting BridgePoint Effect, I was an employee in S&P 500 companies, in addition to other small and medium size firms. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was an intrapreneur. I was fortunate to work with leaders who had the vision and understanding of the necessity to continually evolve and look for new and better ways of achieving the mission of the organization, and who were willing to model for me how to do it.

When I made the choice to do a Master’s of Science in Creativity and Change Leadership, I did so knowing that I needed skills beyond those afforded me by my Bachelor of Business Management degree.  Having seen firsthand the challenges organizations were facing when it came to change and innovation, I knew I wanted to tool up and hone my skills as a change leader, an intrapreneur.  In my work as an employee and an entrepreneur, I saw that people in organizations needed the ability to think differently to do innovation well. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn the skills of innovation so I could help others learn them too. These skills—creativity, problem-solving and continuous improvement skills; risk assessment and risk-taking skills; relationship building and communication skills; and implementation skills—are critical to intrapreneurs and key competencies needed in all organizations wishing to remain sustainable.

Sustainability comes through change. Disrupt or be disrupted. The choice is yours.

In two follow-up blogs, I’ll share more of my key insights and takeaways from the conference. Watch this space!

Learn about building a sustainable business through innovation (and hone your innovation and intrapreneurship skills as well!). Ask me about our ThinkUP Innovation Framework. I spent ten years researching and developing it to help organizations increase their capacity for innovation and multiply their innovation impact.

Or, maybe you’d like to start with some team building activities to help your team understand the mysteries of innovation and how they can leverage creative thinking to solve the complex challenges that come with disruption. 

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