The Myth of the Intrapreneur

Intrapreneur is an amorphous term. It is intended to convey the attributes of an Entrepreneur leading a startup company to the situational context of a large company’s innovation efforts.  Unfortunately, the term ‘Intrapreneur’ has been corrupted. As the author states:

… intrapreneurship has been sold to companies as a catch-all solution for fostering innovation. It’s been promoted to workers as a way to capture the creativity and excitement of entrepreneurship, but with more resources and less risk.

In one respect, this is true. An Intrapreneur is used as a catch-all term for a person who tries to get a disruptive or transformative new opportunity implemented within a large company. But too often, the expectations of an Intrapreneur are unrealistic. The author mentions what happened to the inventor of the digital camera at Kodak:

Sasson’s experience at Kodak demonstrates that no single individual, no matter how brilliant, can take a game-changing innovation all the way from idea to reality.

But this is not what an Entrepreneur does. Nor is it what an Intrapreneur should be expected to do. What the author is describing is more like a ‘champion’ than an Intrapreneur (Indeed the title of the book he has co-authored with Gina O’Connor is titled ‘Beyond the Champion’ – an excellent read by the way).

Many individuals given the ‘Intrapreneur’ moniker, like Sasson from Kodak, aren’t doing what an Intrapreneur should. An Intrapreneur has a vision and lives and breathes the new business – 24-7. An Intrapreneur navigates complex individual and organizational relationships and personalities to get things done. These (and many other) things are what both Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs should have in common, just in different contexts.

Companies do not normally allow individuals to be true Intrapreneurs. All to often, a disruptive and transformational new business is treated as just another project, one of several the ostensible Intrapreneur is juggling. No startup, their VC’s or Board would ever tolerate this.

The author makes some very good observations about innovation in large companies, especially the people part, and identifies eight key elements of an effective innovation management system. In addition, he concludes that:

Companies need a strategic plan for professionalizing and institutionalizing innovation across their organizations. This is the only way to nurture the breakthrough innovations needed for the future health of the business.

This is yet another endorsement for creating an explicit and comprehensive  innovation strategy, of which Intrapreneurship (and all of the other innovation people elements) are a component.

Original Article »

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