Intrapreneurship: Going Back to the Garage

Intrapreneurship: Going Back to the Garage

Almost certainly you have all heard of the term Entrepreneurship.  It is usually used in reference to individuals who decide to go it alone – professionally strike out into the world by themselves so to speak.  But have you heard of this term’s sibling, Intrapreneurship?

In 1992, The American Heritage Dictionary acknowledged the popular use of a new word, Intrapreneur, to mean “A person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation”. Intrapreneurship is now known as the practice of a corporate management style that integrates risk-taking and innovation approaches, as well as the reward and motivational techniques associated with success, that are more traditionally thought of as being the province of entrepreneurship.

However the term was first coined in 1978 in a paper written by Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot.

The term “intrapreneurship” was used in the popular media first in February 1985 by TIME magazine article “Here come the Intrapreneurs” and then the same year in another major popular publication in a quote by Steve Jobs, Apple Computer’s Chairman.

In an interview in the September 1985 Newsweek article, Steve Jobs shared; “The Macintosh team was what is commonly known as intrapreneurship; only a few years before the term was coined – a group of people going, in essence, back to the garage, but in a large company.”

Although it seems to be a fine idea, few corporations seem to want to institute the concept into practice outside of a few progressive industry leaders.  Among these astute trail blazers are Apple, as mentioned above, whose experiment with intrapreneurship was unarguably a huge success (remember how popular Macintoshes were?).

Another great example of a company putting this notion into direct practice is Google. Although not every one of their employees is involved (waaaay too many of them), they do choose individuals and teams – primarily engineers and designers, to spend 20% of their professional time working on secondary projects conceived of, and managed by the employees themselves. This is a sterling example of functioning in an ‘Innovative Intrapreneurial  Culture’.

One of the more interesting examples – and quite possibly the earliest – is Lockheed Martin. In 1943, they were far-sighted enough to realize that war for the United States was quickly going to become a reality.  When the Army Air Corps came to them and asked for a new jet-driven fighter, Lockheed jumped at the chance and Skunkworks (the name of the moonshine factory in the Lil’ Abner comic strip) was born.

The engineers who were chosen (there were 40 of them),  were then relocated to a walled-off section of one building, given never seen-before autonomy, and were basically told to build something that matched and exceeded German Luftwaffe fighter jets, which were commanding air superiority over Europe at that time.  They came up with the XP-80 project that would very quickly, go into production as the P-80 Shooting Star – the first american jet fighter.

In this example, the challenge to innovate was thrust upon a group of individuals.  It was of  imminent importance that they face that challenge and command exceptional results.  Fortunately , they were handed the support they required and they did indeed, produce an amazing result. A supported challenge to innovate, could well provide the spark that ignites leadership desire to mold an innovative culture and could set the organization apart from their competition.

According to authors Vijay Govindarajan and Jatin Desai of the Harvard Business Review blog post, there are particular traits that are common to most, if not all intrapreneurial  individuals. Lets examine four of the biggies.

  •  They are “Greenhousers.” When presented with an interesting idea they do not let it stagnate.  It “germinates” in their mind and they possess the wherewithal to figure out how to make it a reality. The seed of an idea then sprouts into a plan and blossoms into existence.
  • They Know How to Pivot.  Intrapreneurs are not afraid to change course mid stride and possess very little fear of failure.  They display a quiet confidence and courage that they employ to help them move ever closer to their goals.
  • Money is Not Their Measurement.  They respect the value and importance of currency to their organization but are not driven by it.  They do their work in a manner that displays to the company that they are someone the organization cannot afford to lose. The money and advancement finds them.
  • They Behave Authentically With Integrity.  They exhibit the traits of confidence and humility.  They are not doing what they do for glory, but rather from an innate sense of inner accomplishment.

“Intrapreneurship refers to employee initiatives in organizations to undertake something new, without being asked to do so.”  Hence, the intrapreneur is allowed to focus on innovation and creativity, to transform an idea into a profitable venture, while operating within the organizational environment that values innovation. Thus, intrapreneurs are Inside Entrepreneurs who follow the established goals of the organization. Intrapreneurship is an example of motivation through an innovative culture driven environment. Such a corporate culture does not materialize on it’s own. It is grown strategically and tactically!

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