Every mature company I know is looking for more innovation from within. They are painfully aware that tenure on the list of S&P companies is shrinking – from thirty-three years back in 1964, down to twenty-four in 2016, and predicted to be just twelve by 2027. They need inside intrapreneurs who think and act like the outside entrepreneurs who are disrupting their business.
I have seen this happening firsthand from my years of experience in several big-name companies, including IBM and Fujitsu. In my view, success starts with nurturing and bringing in the right people to make it happen or being one of the right people from within if you want your career to blossom.
I just completed a new book on this challenge, “Disrupt-It-Yourself,” by Simone Bhan Ahuja, which includes a great summary of the required attributes to maximize your success potential in this area. I don’t believe that any of these requires a birthright, and all can be adopted or learned by anyone, so I encourage you to take a hard look at your own interests and key team members:
- Action trumps ideas and more analysis every time. Real change comes from people who are obsessed with action, not ideas. Thinking and analysis without execution feel like zero cost to existing organizations, but it actually ignores the opportunity cost lost. If you act, you learn from other people, especially customers, and you build momentum.
- Focused on progress rather than process. Most entrepreneurs realize that for early-stage startups, process is the enemy of progress, slowing you down when you’re trying to move forward. But more mature companies have learned that scaling a business requires process, so the focus changes. Intrapreneurs have to always think like entrepreneurs.
- Relishes the opportunity to learn from problems. Corporate environments tend to treat problems as failures, rather than opportunities. People are trained to avoid change and stick with the safer status quo. True entrepreneurs, like Thomas Edison, realize that the biggest innovations come from solving problems, such as failing light bulb filaments.
- Loves to “hack” new outcomes from existing systems. In software, hackers love the intellectual challenge of confronting a system designed to do one thing and cleverly exploit it to achieve something different. That’s the essence of innovation, and good intrapreneurs need to find new opportunities by bending existing strengths in new ways.
- Reach out across the aisle for complementary talent. Smart intrapreneurs know they can’t do it alone and know how to enlist the help they need by making it clear “what’s in it” for others. They enjoy engaging in informal partnering and co-design solutions with other stakeholders while making the total opportunity as much possible about others.
- Married to a mission, but not just to one way to do it. The people you desire know the “what” and the “why,” but don’t want to be told “how.” They are always looking for gaps and misalignments, and thrive on changes, even radical changes, so the organization performs better. In this context, strategy deviations can keep the company on track.
- Frugal by nature, and don’t ask for much to proceed. Even though they see huge budgets all around, they prefer to start on the cheap (like an entrepreneur), reusing existing resources, working on the side, and employing messy, make-do methods over expensive sanctioned systems that have long approval cycles and much oversight.
Because fostering entrepreneurship internally is hard, many companies have now shifted their innovation focus to acquisitions and partnerships. All have found that this approach can be equally difficult, due to the integration of multiple corporate cultures, processes, supplier dependencies, and management styles.
Thus, I continue to assert that effectively harnessing and building of internal talent to drive innovation from within will continue to be one of the single most important factors for your company’s long-term success. It starts with a mindset that disrupting your business regularly is necessary, before your competition and new startups do it to you. Start your tenure from today.