The Rise of the Intrapreneur

The term intrapreneur is not new, it is a termed coined in the mid 1980’s and is credited to Gifford Pinchot who wrote the 1985 best selling book “Intrapreneuring” (check out the cover below and also the quote from Tom Peters!)


Even though this book was written over 30 years ago, its importance in today’s corporate landscape is certainly more important than ever. Intrapreneurs are the driving force behind innovation and corporate culture, in short they are the heroes of the workforce. The increase of intrapreneurs within today’s corporate businesses is a combination of the level of education of the workforce, the mindset of millennials entering the workforce wanting to make a real impact with their careers and the Gen Xers wanting to create a legacy. It is a recipe for accelerated growth and “the sky’s the limit” thinking.

Fast Company, in its 2015 article, The Rise of The Intrapreneur, begins with this sentence:

“Never before has there been such a push for employees to take ownership of their own corner of a company.”

These employees think and feel like the owners of the business would. They are the backbone of the business for continued success.

There are many intrepreneurs within a business that are well known, but there are just as many waiting in the wings. These people may not be your obvious top performers, the extroverts or the mavericks in the business. The secret is to be able to uncover these hidden intrepreneurs and to give them the correct support and empower them to then fly within the organisation rather to fly the coup.

In an article written for Harvard Business Review, authors Vijay Govindarajan and Jatin Desai found that many senior leaders, surprisingly, are actually afraid to promote out-of-the-box thinking for fear of losing their best employees to success and then to competitors. In their article they outline six behavioural patterns of successful intrepreneurs.

Pattern #1: Money Is Not the Measurement.
The primary motivation for intrapreneurs is influence with freedom. They want to be rewarded fairly, but money is not the starting point for them. Reward and compensation are a scorecard of how well they are playing the game of intrapreneurship.

Pattern #2: Strategic Scanning. 
Intrapreneurs are constantly thinking about what is next, one step into the future. These passionate change agents are highly engaged, very clear, and visibly consistent in their work and interactions. They are not sitting around waiting for the world to change; they’re figuring out which part of the world is about to change, and they will arrive just in time to leverage their new insights. Learning is like oxygen to them.

Pattern #3: Greenhousing.
Intrapreneurs tend to contemplate the seed of an idea for days and weeks between calls, meetings, and conversation. As they shine more light on it, the idea becomes clearer, but they don’t yet share it. They know that others may dismiss it without fully appreciating it — so they tend to ideas in their greenhouse, protecting them for a while from potential naysayers.

Pattern #4: Visual Thinking.
Visual thinking is a combination of brainstorming, mind mapping, and design thinking. Only after an exciting insight do intrapreneurs seem able to formulate and visualize a series of solutions in their head—rarely do they formulate just one solution. They do not act impulsively on a solution immediately, keenly aware of the need to honor the discovery phase for the new solution, giving it time to develop and crystallize.

Pattern #5: Pivoting. 
Pivoting is making a significant, often courageous, shift from the current strategic direction. It sounds scary and unfathomable to most mature organizations, although it’s often what is needed to resuscitate a dying company.

For example, Steve Jobs pivoted Apple from being an education and hobby computer company to a consumer electronics company. Wipro of India pivoted from being a small vegetable oil manufacturer to a software outsourcing powerhouse. CEO Tony Hsieh of Zappos pivoted from  selling only shoes to becoming an online customer experience company. (In 2009, Amazon bought Zappos for $1.2 billion.) Jeff Bezos pivoted Amazon from being the world’s largest online megamall that sold everybody else’s stuff to selling its own hardware—the Kindle line of readers. This strategy has paid off well—as of this writing, Amazon owns about 60% of the e-reader market share, and its market capitalization value is north of $100 billion.

Pattern #6: Authenticity and Integrity. 
The intrapreneurs we studied demonstrate the attributes of confidence and humility, not the maverick-like behavior often associated with successful corporate innovators. They all, however, exuded high self-awareness and sense of purpose.

If a company has the culture to nurture and empower intrepreneurs then they most likely are going to attract more intrepreneurs to the organisation which is great for the employee and potential employee looking to join the company, but more importantly it will be the key to the organisations long-term success.