Acknowledging the corporate innovator
In the first season of the Spanish crime drama Money Heist, The Professor (played by Álvaro Morte) creates a master plan to rob the Royal Mint of Spain. He recruits a group of serial crooks to execute the plan from inside the Royal Mint, while he contends with challenges in the outside world.
Once the heist is underway, both The Professor and his team must acclimatize to their predicaments, repeatedly manage crisis situations, and remain agile in thought and action, in order to see the scheme to its fulfillment without getting caught.
This may be an avant-garde example, but it perfectly explains how intrapreneurship is both related to and also different from entrepreneurship.
Intrapreneurship is a corporate twist on entrepreneurship. It entails imbibing entrepreneurial qualities intra-company, or within an established business, to help the business hack its way to the top.
In a way, The Professor from the earlier example essentially represents the enterprise with his knowledge of regulations and protocols, and his team of lawbreakers the intrapreneurs–they exhibit similar qualities, such as risk taking, creativity, and self-discipline, but to different degrees and in radically different situations.
In the real world, some of the world’s most innovative products, many of which eventually became household names, emerged from intrapreneurial endeavours. For instance, when 3M allowed 15% of work time to be dedicated to personal projects, Spencer Silver used it to develop an adhesive that eventually led to the invention of post-its. Similarly, Gmail was the result of Paul Buchheit’s endeavors during his 20% passion project time.
However, intrapreneurship is not restricted only to product development. In the marketing world, for instance, growth hackers adopt intrapreneurial acumen in their pursuit of acquiring customers, especially in crowded markets such as supply chain or fintech.
“Black Swan events”–unpredictable events with unforeseen consequences–have in recent years made intrapreneurship increasingly relevant for established businesses. There are several examples of this phenomenon; for instance, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a boom in the use of virtual technologies within businesses. Similarly, demonetization in India spurred the cashless economy to the forefront, forcing businesses to adapt their point-of-sale transactions for digital payments.
One of the primary benefits of intrapreneurship is that it allows people to adopt entrepreneurial mindsets within the safety net of their day jobs. Employees can become the world’s next innovators without having to give up cushy jobs and the financial perks of employment. They can also tap into their company’s network of intelligence and capital, banking on access to expert reviews, funders, and research data to realize their product.
At the same time, intrapreneurs may perhaps not be able to enjoy being their own boss, unlike traditional entrepreneurs, who often proclaim this to be one of the best parts of what they do. Intrapreneurs are obligated to meet goals set by the business, give up varying degrees of decision-making power, and can fall prey to corporate resistance to change.
Weighing these pros and cons in the context of contemporary business, many businesses may come to the conclusion that intrapreneurship is as much a survival strategy as it is a means of driving innovation. Surviving in today’s market demands disruption.
Millennial culture has its role to play in the rise of intrapreneurship. Businesses have to create room for their desire for autonomy, creativity, and meaning, or risk losing exceptional talent to a more dynamic organization, or to the employee’s own venture.
The question a business should be asking itself is what culture it wants to create. Intrapreneurial spirit sees leader in workers, and makes pioneers out of employees. The top-down approach has perhaps lost its sheen; to stay ahead of the game, businesses need to recognize that their employees are their most valuable players.
Header image by Brooke Lark on Unsplash