Craig Rhinehart is Intrapreneur and Director at IBM Watson Health Strategy and Market Development. He has more than 30 years executive experience bringing innovative solutions to market in healthcare, government, sports and other industries. When not helping IBM build a Smarter Planet, Craig can be found volunteering as a mentor/advisor to entrepreneurs and veterans. His blog on business innovation, strategy and growth can be found at http://craigrhinehart.com
In this preview-interview Craig shares some of his research findings with us, as well as his view on the relevance, pitfalls, and future of intrapreneurship. He wonders – why does such a gap exist between wanting and actually commercializing innovation?
We’ve found an article about intrapreneurship at IBM from 1985. Although it’s not new, intrapreneurship seems more relevant than ever for many companies. Why is that?
The pace of business is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. In order to compete, companies need to be faster and more innovative then ever before. It’s no secret that most large organizations can struggle with being fast and agile … certainly when being compared to start-ups.
This problem is exacerbated for large, multinational, publicly traded companies. I believe this is at the core of what companies like IBM need to excel at for future growth.
IBM is a very old and large company. When you’ve been around over 100 years, and have well over 400,000 employees, there is an incredibly large and vibrant intrapreneurial spirit, energy and desire to tap into. We also have a strong legacy and culture of innovation to draw upon. We do a lot more then just Watson related innovation on cognitive computing. The stories that have emerged throughout our history (have a look here) are complex tales of big risks, lessons learned and discoveries that have transformed the way we work and live.
For the past 22 years, IBM has secured the largest number of patents in each of those years. This past year, IBM was the first company to exceed 7,000 patents in a single year with 7,534 in 2014 … that is over 2,500 more then the next company. The company’s 2014 patent count exceeded the combined totals of Accenture, Amazon, Google, HP, Intel and Oracle. I am not using the numbers to brag, but it does exemplify IBM’s commitment to innovation and the importance to our business.
In practical terms, it means we need a number of different intrapreneurial approaches and programs to capitalize on turning that investment on innovation into revenue and shareholder value.
Without this, the future business of IBM (or any other large organization) is put at risk.
You have done extensive research on intrapreneurship. What is the most interesting finding you can share with us?
I started doing this research because I was determined to write a book explaining why large organization struggle to commercialize their own innovation. My findings have been particularly enlightening and I will be sharing some of them during my talk at the conference. As an industry, we need benchmarks if we are going to establish best practices that can help all organizations improve their ability to commercialize their own innovation. I hope to help establish those benchmarks.
As an example… even though there is real no common “agreed to” definition of what an intrapreneur is or should do, 98% of those surveyed “Agree” or “Partially Agree” agreed that large organizations need people who take responsibility for bringing ideas to market through assertive risk taking and innovation. I blogged about this recently in What Is An Intrapreneur Anyway?
I planned to present a number of interesting findings at the conference including a discussion about the differences between entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship.
When you consider that 100% of those surveyed indicate that innovation is important to the long-term health and/or competitive advantage of an organization, you might also conclude that commercializing that same innovation is an organizational imperative.
You would be wrong… from that same group of those professionals surveyed comes to startling statistic that 72% consider their own organization’s ability to commercialize innovation as “Average”, “Below Average” or “Poor”.
This is a mind blowing disparity. How can there be such low proficiency at something that is so critical?
Other research showed only 3-5% of staff at large organizations shows the traits of an intrapreneur. How does that relate to your experience within IBM?
It guess it really depends on your definition of an intrapreneur. Because of our size and culture, we may have different expectations, and some unique challenges, then other organizations.
In an organization like IBM, it really comes down to an aligned team and leader having the right skills and motivation to see the project through obstacles… as opposed to a single person.
I will say that the skills needed to be a successful intrapreneur are not generally found in large organizations in a single person. This is not necessarily an obstacle though.
At the surface level, it’s easy to assume that entrepreneurship is similar to intrapreneurship since they generally after the same kinds of revenue growth oriented outcomes. In reality, the process and funding mechanisms are dramatically different. There are other critical success factors, such as the overall skills needed, corporate culture, risk profile of the individuals, incentive system (or lack thereof) and more.
As an intrapreneur and corporate director, do you lead differently than your peers?
I think so. I am certainly more sensitive and aware of the issues and obstacles that people face.
I am also in a unique leadership position in that I founded, organized and run IBM’s Intrapreneurship@IBM community and associated 8 Minute Pitch program. We run this program with a start up philosophy and it is very viral. Community membership has grown from zero to approximately 3,000 members in a little over a year. We have a strong volunteer component to our model.
What are you going to share on stage in New York?
I plan to discuss the Intrapreneurship@IBM program / community and associated 8 Minute Pitch program. I will cover successes, challenges and failures as well as our future plans for these programs. I will cover a deeper set of findings from the benchmark survey (mentioned above) that I recently conducted with over 500 innovation professionals (both non-IBM and IBM respondants).
Lastly, IBM has set out on a “moonshot” attempt at transforming healthcare. Bringing our innovation to market through intrapreneurship is a focus of this initiative. I plan to feature our innovation in healthcare including the world-renowned IBM Watson family of healthcare solutions.
Where do you see the field evolving to, over the next 2-3 years?
There is more awareness than ever before. Conferences like this have brought important awareness and education about the gap between the need for innovation and the reality of how hard it is to translate that into commercialized offerings.
This was an important first step to closing that gap. Over the next few years, I think you will see a great deal more energy in this area. Large organizations have amazing advantages (more resources and more customers) that they need to capitalize on better than they do today.