Learning to Think Like an Entrepreneur

Intrapreneurship - Learning to Think Like an Entrepreneur

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Show your true creative colors by innovating within your organization.

Do you make a unique difference to your business?

We're not just talking about being a constructive member of the team; a vital cog in the machinery of your organization. We're talking about the qualities that you bring to your business that nobody else can.

In his 2012 keynote address at the University of the Arts, London, award-winning author Neil Gaiman advised his audience to "do the stuff that only you can do... The one thing you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision…"

This article explores how unleashing your "intrapreneurial" skills can make a real difference at work, and open your leadership team's eyes to the value that you – and you alone – can bring to your company.

What Is an Intrapreneur?

Imagine office stationery without Post-it® notes, or the rise in popularity of computer game consoles without the Sony PlayStation®. What about Facebook® without the "like" button?

All of these iconic products (and more) were the result of intrapreneurs – people who think and act like entrepreneurs while working for a larger organization. Intrapreneurs take the initiative, often on their own, to create new products, processes, policies, and services for their organization, while still abiding by its mission, values and objectives.

You don't have to be a rebel or an "out of the box" creative to be an intrapreneur, but you do need the courage and desire to pursue an idea that you believe will benefit your company, clients or customers.

If you think you have what it takes to be an intrapreneur, read on!

Benefits and Risks of Intrapreneurship

Many entrepreneurs start out while working for someone else. Being an intrapreneur gives you the benefit of your company's resources and connections, secure in the knowledge that you'll still be able to pay the rent while you practice your craft.

Knowing that you're making a meaningful contribution to your team or organization, while pursuing your own vision at work, can also profoundly improve your job satisfaction, build your credibility, and work wonders for your self-confidence.

However, not many companies have formal intrapreneurship programs, and the leaders within your company (managers, executives and the CEO) may not see it as part of their role to support people who tread their own path.

Bringing Your Company on Board

While being an intrapreneur can be good for your career and personal development, it can also be highly beneficial for your organization. For one thing, the company gets to keep the rights to any innovations you come up with while working there.

If your ideas and initiatives are successful, they could lead to new products and opportunities that fuel business growth. New markets could open up to the company, and customer satisfaction could improve.

Organizations that support intrapreneurship often have a stronger, more engaged culture, and find it easier to attract and retain top talent. Team members appreciate the opportunity to develop key leadership skills and pursue career development opportunities within their organization, rather than having to advance their careers elsewhere.

Some companies, such as 3M™, AT&T®, DuPont™, Google®, Sony, Texas Instruments™, and Toyota®, actively encourage intrapreneurs. 3M, for example, has a policy of allowing its scientists to devote up to 15 percent of their time to individual projects, while at DreamWorks®, team members can take classes in how to pitch their ideas, before meeting directly with company executives.

However, not all companies embrace intrapreneurs. Conservative or risk-averse organizations may find it hard to tolerate the failures and risks that accompany innovation, making them unintentionally hostile and unsupportive to intrapreneurs. And in times of austerity, businesses might lack the funds to invest people, money and other resources into a new initiative that might ultimately fail – especially when those resources are needed for projects that are generating revenue already.

How to Develop Intrapreneurial Skills

Follow the steps below to develop your intrapreneurial skills.

1. Develop the Right Personal Skills

Intrapreneurs share many of the strengths and skills more commonly associated with entrepreneurs. They're self-confident, creative and tenacious innovators, who excel at problem solving and aren't afraid of putting their ideas on the line.

Intrapreneurs are willing to take calculated risks, but they understand the difference between good risks and bad ones. Learn how to take calculated, intelligent risks by using Risk Analysis to steer clear of ideas that could prove disastrous.

Intrapreneurs are brave, as success is rarely guaranteed. Instead of allowing your fears to keep you from pursuing your ideas, be comfortable in the knowledge that failure can be a stepping stone to something even better, enriching you with practical experience along the way. Overcome your fear of failure, and, when things don't go perfectly, pick yourself up, review the situation, and move on.


Some organizations punish honest failure severely, either for valid, risk-related reasons or for dysfunctional or political ones. (Honest failure occurs when you've put your mind, heart and soul into a project, and it hasn't worked out for reasons outside your control.)

If you're a natural intrapreneur in a company with this kind of ethos, move on to one that appreciates and supports your talent and enthusiasm.

You'll also need to know how to take the initiative at work. Few organizations have a program in place that encourages and supports intrapreneurship, so you need to know how to take action without waiting for someone to tell you what to do.

2. Develop an Idea

Intrapreneurs are always looking for ways to make things better. To them, problems are really just opportunities in disguise.

One of the best ways to get noticed in your organization is to come up with a creative solution to an existing problem. Start by looking at the issues and bottlenecks that affect productivity and cause headaches for other people – especially your boss. If you can solve your boss's problems, they're far more likely to give you the go-ahead on your other ideas.

You can also look at the problems your customers or clients are experiencing. Use problem-solving tools like Root Cause Analysis and The 5 Whys to get to the bottom of them, then use creative-thinking tools like Random Input, The Reframing Matrix or The Simplex Process to come up with innovative solutions.

And discuss your ideas and suggestions with other people who know about different parts of the problem you want to solve. They can help you refine your ideas and develop an even better solution.

Finally, develop a business case for your idea and, as part of this, conduct an appropriate financial evaluation to make sure that the idea makes sense. (Ask your finance department for help doing this in a way that your company will respect.)

3. Pitch Your Idea

Once you have an idea that excites you, it's time to pitch it to your boss or leadership team. This can be a challenging step, because it means putting yourself, and your idea, on the line.

Prepare by learning how to think on your feet and brush up on your impromptu speaking skills. Staying cool under pressure will help you to think clearly, while you pitch your idea.

Next, use our Bite-Sized Training workbook (Club members only) to think about how to sell your idea, and craft an elevator pitch that explains your idea in two minutes or less. Strengthen your message and make it more persuasive with Monroe's Motivated Sequence, then use our Presentation Planning Checklist to make sure that you haven't forgotten anything.

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When you sit down with your boss, start by describing in detail the nature of the problem you've identified, and explain how your idea is going to solve it. Outline the benefits, and be honest about the risks.

Next, explain what you need to get started. Be specific. It's important to be up-front and transparent about what it's going to take to make your idea work, so if your concept is going to take six months and a team of 10 people to implement, say so.

4. Be Persistent

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

Don't be discouraged if your pitch is unsuccessful. Some of the most successful ideas of all time were rejected the first time around. Correction fluid, folding bicycles, the hovercraft, and even Barbie™ dolls were sidelined in the beginning.

Take careful note of any reservations that your manager or leadership team raise during your pitch. If you still believe that your idea will work, do more research to support your hunch. Make your solution more attractive by refining it in light of what has been said, and stay focused on creating value for other people.

5. Conduct a Pilot Test

Great news, they liked your plan! But what now?

The next step is to start putting your ideas into action. It's unlikely that, at this early stage, your manager will give you the green light to roll out your idea across the whole company. First, they will need to see more evidence that the idea is going to work.

One way to do this is by conducting a Business Experiment to test your ideas on a small scale, before taking big risks or committing significant resources to a larger project. You could also use Deming's Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle to set up a pilot project, or create a Minimum Viable Product to prove your assumptions and explore your customers' wants and needs.

6. Wider Implementation

If your pilot study is a success and you and your manager are happy to proceed further, it's all systems go!

Good Project Management, Risk Management, and Change Management skills will help to keep things running smoothly. If your idea turns out to be a really big success, you may want to consider asking for a raise!

Key Points

Intrapreneurs are people who think and act like entrepreneurs, while working for a larger organization.

To be an intrapreneur, you need to put your individuality to good use to develop innovative new products or ideas that can benefit your company. This will increase both your job satisfaction and your value as an employee.

To develop your own intrapreneurial skills, you need to consider both your personal attributes and your professional ones.

Start by looking for ways to add value and help your company by identifying problems and bottlenecks that need to be dealt with. Use creative problem-solving tools to come up with innovative solutions and develop your presentation skills so that, when you find an idea that you believe in, you can pitch it convincingly and confidently.

Finally, start turning your concept into reality by running pilot studies and well-managed projects. If all goes well, you'll be rolling out company-wide initiatives in no time.

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