There’s long been a dichotomy in the stories we tell ourselves about entrepreneurship and innovation. Either you’re a lone wolf breaking new ground, or a cog in a bland, impersonal machine. You’re either resiliently rolling with the punches and failing fast, or you’re stagnant and rigid – waiting for your turn to rise up the ranks. But of course, things aren’t quite as cut and dry anymore. And as Forbes’ Jules Schroeder points out, many are coming to realize that entrepreneurship isn’t always as sexy as it’s been made out to be.
“The truth is, entrepreneurship isn’t as glamorous as it seems. Having started multiple companies myself, I know that entrepreneurship is risky. One year you can be up seven figures, and the next you can be in debt. You have to be willing to lead, to take radical responsibility, and to weather constant uncertainty. To be blunt, it isn’t for everyone, and that’s why most entrepreneurs don’t stay in the game very long.”
But for entrepreneurial spirits eager to innovate without compromising on resources and security, there’s intrapreneurship: an approach to innovation meant to foster startup-like independence, agility, creativity and risk-taking within larger, more established organizations. That’s the playbook we’ve adopted at GSoft. Be it through self-directed team building, continuous software experiments at ShareGate and Officevibe, or our creativity-driven Lab, the principles of intrapreneurship shape the way we hire, evaluate performances, develop products and plan our work.
But why is intrapreneurship proving so popular in our changing knowledge economy? How can you implement some of its principles in your team? Here are a few answers and hacks to get you started.
What’s the hype about?
More freedom, less risk
Sure, there’s a lot to be said for bootstrapping your vision and building everything from the ground up, but let’s face it: having the existing expertise, guidance and resources to propel your ideas can be pretty powerful too. That’s why, for many, intrapreneurship is the sweet spot; simultaneously allowing for creative disruption and safety, ownership and guidance.
Increased agility means good business
The fact is, says author and Spyder Works CEO Ken Tencer, most companies can’t really afford not to shift to a more agile and collaborative approach to innovation.
Before the internet and globalization, you could drive a business on a few successful market launches. But you can’t create the number of ideas necessary to succeed on your own anymore.
The numbers don’t lie: the speed of disruption has now gone far beyond what most of us could ever have imagined. According to Deloitte, the average lifespan of an S&P 500 company in the 1960s was of 56 years. As of 2014, that number had dropped to 15, with 40% of today’s Fortune 500 companies expected to have disappeared by 2024. Agility, adaptability, curiosity and innovation are no longer a luxury – they’re a necessity.
Fostering employee loyalty is key
As the knowledge economy continues to grow, new talent is increasingly looking to work in meaningful environments that empower them to tap into that potential for disruption. Think about it: students that graduated high school in 2015 have never known a world without Google or the internet. They’ve spent their formative years continuously exploring and adapting to new technological realities, and they’ll be entering our ranks in no time. But no matter the age, in our experience, nurturing and incentivizing a sense of curiosity, ownership and creativity is one of the most important things you can do to keep your team loyal, invested and engaged. And in a market where 49% of Millenials are expected to quit their jobs within the next 2 years, that’s no small feat.
Intrapreneurship pays off
Of course, there are the legendary 3Ms and Googles of this world, who’ve leveraged intrapreneurship to bring us countless successful innovations including the beloved Post-It note. But closer to home, companies that have leveraged the potential of that entrepreneurial streak are also winning big. Take Toronto-based Maropost, for example. As North America’s fastest-growing marketing automation company, they’ve seen their numbers double every year since their launch in 2011. Today, they’re pulling in $30M with 12 employees, and CEO Ross Andrew Paquette says a big part of that success stems from the team’s culture and commitment to taking initiative, promoting self-directed growth, and diving right in.
We expect everyone to independently research areas that interest them as they take direction and control of their role. It’s encouraged to come out of training with questions. It’s even better to come out with a strategy.
As a new generation of entrepreneurial spirits chooses to innovate within established organizations, we’re finding that the responsibility to adapt has shifted; it’s no longer up to employees to step into line, but up to employers to give their teams the structure, ownership and flexibility they need to thrive. Wondering how you can start implementing that intrapreneurial shift? Check out part II of this series to find out.