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Intrapreneurship: Innovating From Within – Pascal Cools

What is the link between the Lockheed Martin SR71 spy plane and guitar strings? Between Java software and scotch tape? And between the “like” button on facebook and PlayStation?

The link is that all these products and items were not a result of an anonymous process within an official innovation or R&D department.

Dave Myers, an employee at Gore, recognized that one of the fibers Gore was using had all the characteristics of guitar strings. It was not a management strategy to diversity into guitar strings. The like button was created during an hackathon. The post-it was created by coincidence. The first fighter jet engine was unofficially developed in a circus tent in an airfield somewhere during WW2. You get the point.

What they all have in common is intrapreneurship. If you want to tap into the full innovative potential you need to go beyond the engineer or R&D team in your organization.

So question is really: how can we try to stimulate intrapreneurship within your organization?

The first step, has nothing to do with intrapreneurs, but with the innovation vision. For most companies innovation still looks like this: men and women in white lab coats during complex stuff in laboratories.

This is fine, but not enough.There are also new societal and business concepts and models to consider and tap into. Trends, ideas, process, marketing, organizational structure, and so on are also part of innovation. The paradigm is shifting, it’s not only about technology anymore. Creative sectors have proven economic value. Candy Crush was sold for 5.9 billion euro.

Getting this integrated vision on innovation in your organization is not just important to enhance intrapreneurship. It also has a positive effect on your stock prices. The more types of innovation that you combine, the higher your stock prices are. (you can see the statics on the slides from 13:12 to 14:16).

Step two is to find the right people. You need technical people, but also people with proactive personalities that are open to change, and look for new ideas. If you do cognitive test, the ‘Creator’ is the one who is most likely to display intrapreneurial attitude.

Step three is allowing change; creating a framework that supports innovation. Usually having the Friday afternoon free is not enough. At first people are excited but then they just end up booking their meetings during this time.

A way to work around is to put up hackathons, internal startup weekend, bootcamps, etc. You limit the time of innovation but make sure that everyone participate.

Be cautious, however, with how you reward innovation. The reward should not be financial but you need to find ways to reward the ability to pursue and execute ideas. For instance, have internal coaches, make clear steps of what should be done if you have an idea, have someone who helps employees prepare a pitch to management. Another way is to encourage spin-offs. In Cronos, for example, employees can own 20-25 percent of a spin-off, so it becomes their company and Cronos’ company.

Last but not least, the best way and the really crucial way to encourage intrapreneurship is leadership – by giving people time (and budget), freedom to make decision, and giving them the recognition that they deserve.

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