Intrapreneurship: 5 great insights

Highlights from an article by Meredith Somers published in the MIT Sloan Management Review, June 21st 2018

We just revisited today a short, yet very intuitive, article published in 2018 in the MIT Sloan Management Review. The article attempts to offer a simple explanation of #intrapreneurship, which the author defines as “acting like an entrepreneur within an established company”.

Here are five great insights that we take from this article and that make it a worthwhile 5’ read:

Insight 1: Ignore intrapreneurship at your own peril

The first point the author (Meredith Somers) drives home is that your firm needs to “do intrapreneurship” or risk a slow death. While it will be difficult to admit that you need to try to “attack” your own offering – especially if you still have healthy sales – that’s precisely what you should do to avoid others doing the damage.

Photo by Gerald Schömbs on Unsplash

Insight 2: Intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship are cousins, but not brothers

While many elements of a startup accelerator program can and should be used to accelerate internal ventures, the two are not the same. Specifically, it is critical to consider how a new internal venture fits with a company’s existing assets and strategy. The author cites Bill Aulet, the managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship saying that while a startup works in a “blank canvas,” an internal venture needs to think of itself as growing in “a larger company” where “there’s already a lot of paint on the canvas.”

Insight 3: The right incentives matter: Intrinsic > Extrinsic.

Intrapreneurship depends on the motivation and ability of talented employees. Lacking the right incentives, even the best run organizations may fail at intrapreneurship. The author discusses several approaches and their distinct incentives (e.g., idea fair, hackathons, sandbox fund, and innovation time). From our experience, we believe in the power of stimulating participants’ intrinsic motivation for innovation. In other words, rather than relying (solely) on extrinsic rewards (e.g., monetary prizes), firms should design intrapreneurship programs that stimulate employee passion by conferring them sufficient autonomy and opportunities for upskilling and for socialization with like-minded colleagues across the organization.

Insight 4: Rome wasn't built in a day

The author also alerts for the fact that senior leaders need to give their organizations sufficient time for an intrapreneurship program to bear fruits and create great things. Executives overseeing intrapreneurial efforts need to be realistic about the odds of success of each venture (which are low), and remain confident that they will eventually uncover a moonshot idea that will be so successful that will pay for dozens (possibly all) prior failures (and much more).

Insight 5: The key value of intrapreneurship: Avoid the “one-trick pony” trap

The author concludes the article stating that a key advantage of intrapreneurship is avoiding that a company becomes hyper-specialized (or how MIT Sloan’s Michael Cusumano puts it, avoid becoming a “one-trick pony”). This is a critical advantage of intrapreneurship. By drawing on the creative talent of employees who would otherwise not help determine a firm’s innovation, the company will uncover more innovative business ideas that are not necessarily anchored on the firm’s current ways of doing things.

Is your firm investing in intrapreneurship programs? What are your experiences with those?

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