Intrapreneurship is about trust and empowerment (and it starts with leadership)
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- Anis Bedda on November 26, 2013 inInnovation Intrapreneurship Conference

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Excitement is building up – the Intrapreneurship Conference 2013 is happening within a few weeks. Experienced intrapreneurs and inspiring experts are eager to share how they implemented intrapreneurship and show you how you could do that as well.

As an appetizer, we sat with Neil Fogarty, one of the speakers, and asked him some burning questions on intrapreneurship. Neil has been developing entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial businesses for twenty years. He has books and articles published on such business topics as entrepreneurship, business growth, intrapreneurship and corporate effectiveness.  He regularly blogs for Virgin and is a contributor to business journals in the Middle East.

At the heart of all of his books, workshops and speeches are the same core messages: knowledge is nothing without the right attitude – take responsibility for your own life, goals and actions.

So building on this, we wanted to know first – what must you understand if you’re serious about innovation?

Innovation will cost you money, it doesn’t come from nothing. You might not know this, but Apple invested $150m just to develop the first iPhone. Secondly, it will take a lot of time. Some innovations take more than a decade to develop into profitable products. You have to be patient, it’s risky to kill ideas because you can’t see then growing fast enough. At the same time, not all ideas will succeed. Most ideas will fail. And from a personal side, you can expect that people will ignore the borders of your comfort zone. It’s a continuous stretch and so it requires serious commitment from you as innovator. If you are not committed, don’t do it!

That sounds like it’s not for the faint-hearted. In general, can you share your idea about who’s right for being an intrapreneur?

Sure. Let me tell you: everyone can innovate!  Sometimes people think that innovation only happens in some kind of innovation department, but that’s really not the case.

Do you have a colleague who has asked “what if-?” I guess so right? Well, this question indicates this person could be an intrapreneur.

And intrapreneurs are everywhere. For us as business leaders, the critical aspect is ensuring that we provide the right kind of environment for everyone in the organization to go that one step further. An ecosystem that gives people the room to explore their idea. Some companies call it ‘bootlegging’, or ‘dabble time’ or ‘reflective thinking’ – the label doesn’t matter. It’s really about giving teams the space (both mentally and physically) to explore “what if?”.

Absolutely, that’s a good advice. The issue is that most people in companies don’t feel that much of support for their “what if?”. How to deal with that?

Yes, I recognize that. Intrapreneurship is, broadly, a behavioural thing and this is where the issue lies: it is the natural inclination of an organization to either say ‘no’ (negative reflex) or to squash the intrapreneur with process (we don’t do things that way) or history (we tried that before and it didn’t work).

As with many things, leadership is crucially important. The leaders need to embrace intrapreneurship fully, otherwise it will fail. It is a cultural thing – if your people don’t believe in it, they will not advocate it and it won’t succeed.

I’d say, encourage people to break the rules and, like Steve Jobs, develop an elitist culture that defies the new norm.

That imples a shift in organizational design for many companies, which are still operating in a traditional command and control way, don’t you think?

This isn’t so much about the forgetting of command and control but it is more about acknowledging the capability of your people.  An organization, by its nature, requires leaders who will take the helm and communicate a direction but intrapreneurship calls for self-determination – trusting your people to know what to do and what they can do over-and-above in order for the common goal to be achieved. 

Intrapreneurship, in this context, is about trust and self-empowerment.  Whether or not intrapreneurship becomes ‘the new normal’ will be down to the strength and ability of the leaders.

Thanks for sharing your views, Neil. Looking forward to your talk and workshop at the Intrapreneurship Conference !

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