Recently, when running a familiar route with a friend, I marveled at her ability to navigate a complicated shortcut that I had never noticed before. I asked her how she had discovered it, and she responded: “Easy. I studied a map long enough until I saw where two roads connected. It was there all along, in plain sight.”
Too often, the best ideas are in plain sight and obvious to those who know where and how to look. It takes an entrepreneurial spirit to investigate a familiar route on a map. As marketers, we frequently must think like entrepreneurs, to identify new ways to create business opportunities and awareness among various external audiences.
When developing internal initiatives, it’s important to think like an entrepreneur, albeit one with an internal focus. In other words, we need to think like intrapreneurs.
As Richard Branson wrote in Entrepreneur, “While it's true that every company needs an entrepreneur to get it under way, healthy growth requires a smattering of intrapreneurs who drive new projects and explore new and unexpected directions for business development.”
Armed with an intimate understanding of an organization’s internal mechanisms intrapreneurs are pragmatic innovators who are powerful agents of change. They impact company culture and reshape business initiatives. Solution-driven, the successful intrapreneur takes calculated risks.
In a presentation at TEDx Oxford, the economic and organizational sociologist Marc Ventresca characterized entrepreneurs as “system builders” able to combine new ideas with extant inventions. They are able to create companies and products that are the sum of seemingly disparate parts.
The intrapreneur does this too, but in the context of an internal role rather than an independent business owner. As such, the intrapreneur has an inside baseball advantage with a comprehensive understanding of both the functional and dysfunctional processes within the organization. With such intelligence, the saavy can connect the dots – between departments, work streams, business verticals and job functions – to create partnerships and eliminate inefficiencies that may not be as evident to others. For the green intrapreneur, this can mean identifying solutions to reduce resources, cut carbon emissions, and connecting a green strategy to positive financial returns.
Companies that encourage intrapreneurship have seen great successes. In 2007, a grassroots green initiative sprouted at eBay. What began as a handful of employees creating strategies to eliminate Styrofoam cups has grown to nearly 2,500 employees across 23 countries promoting sustainable business practices such as solar installations on eBay office buildings and working with local communities. In 2009, eBay invited their community of buyers and sellers to join the original Green Team to develop sustainable shopping efforts and the Green Team now boasts a membership of over 220,000.
What do you think? What do you think it takes to think like an intrapreneur?