Getting off the treadmill through intrapreneurship

Intrapreneurship is the art of enabling employees exploit their entrepreneurial abilities for the benefit of the firm. Intrapreneurship is how an aerospace engineer invented Post-it notes...

Look around your firm, organisation or company and ask yourself: Am I more of a maintenance engineer keeping today’s business humming along, or an architect imagining tomorrow’s businesses?  How often do I lift my gaze out of the rut and consider what’s out there on the horizon? How influential is my company in setting the new rules of competition within its industry?

These questions receive far too little attention in many firms. They often go unanswered because they are, in a sense, a direct challenge to the assumption that top management is really in control, has better headlights than anyone else in the corporation, and already has a clear and compelling view of the company’s direction.

So the capacity to act, rather than the capacity to think and imagine, becomes the sole measure of leadership.     

You might be wondering what intrapreneurship is all about. It’s the art of enabling employees exploit their entrepreneurial abilities for the benefit of the firm. Intrapreneurship is how an aerospace engineer invented Post-it notes.  Intrapreneurship is how Java powered 3 billion mobile phones. Intrapreneurship is how determined a junior Sony employee battled with the senior managers and brought the Play Station to market.

Imagine every Friday giving employees the entire day to work on a project they believe in. That is what Google did and that is how they came to produce some of the most profit making innovations in their business.

I am often surprised when firms set a hierarchy where ideas are only given from the top down and yet individuals at all levels of the firm can innovate.

This misguided notion of innovation on many occasions turns top management into omnipotent judges who are habitually not willing to listen to other voices in the company that are unconventional, that are less “experienced” and raise questions for which they are no ready answers.

Aren’t you curious why it took U.S. automakers more than 40 years to decode the principles of lean manufacturing? This is because the principles challenged every assumption and bias of U.S. auto executives.

Don’t misunderstand me. I have nothing against top management running the show but the stop watches are out and the stakes are high. What is needed is not just senior managers, but intraprenuers who can wriggle out from the dead hand of corporate traditionalism and rewrite the rules, not content to follow, unafraid to challenge orthodoxy, more concerned with making a difference than making a career and are absolutely committed to staking out the future first.

If a company is to continue growing over a long period of time, its future foresight cannot entirely be influenced by top management.

The company needs to create an enabling environment where its employees can redesign its processes and workflows.

Any firm that doesn’t empower its employees to innovate and identify opportunities that create value, will find itself on the treadmill, trying to keep one step ahead of the steadily declining margins and profits of yesterday’s businesses.

The writer is a lawyer with specific interests in Intellectual Property Law and Innovation Management.