What is intrapreneurship? Stimulating innovation in 2016

As we move into 2016, one of the things that still keeps many IT leaders up at night is innovation. How can I get my organisation to rise to the challenges of a fast-paced, customer-centric world with competition coming from unexpected places?

To answer a few questions on how one might help stimulate innovation within an organisation, I talked to three people who are expert in "intrapreneurship": Maggie De Pree, co-founder of "The League of Intrapreneurs"; Cris Beswick, founder and head of "The Future Shapers"; and Anna Mazzone, Trunomi's UK Managing Director and Global Head of Customer Development.

What exactly is intrapreneurship?

According to Maggie De Pree, "Intrapreneurship in its most literal sense is acting as an entrepreneur within an existing business - applying pragmatic risk taking and 'can-do' approaches to developing new products or services to address market needs."

"Intrapreneurship is not new. As long as we've had institutions, people have been trying to shift the system from within. Florence Nightingale is just one of many examples."

How does one stimulate innovation within an established organisation?

Cris Beswick says, "The inconvenient truth around innovation is that it has to be driven from the top. When it's not from the top, it's sporadic and frustrating for the innovators.

"As a strategic advisor on innovation, one of the key things I help senior teams do is build innovation contribution from across the organisation in order to create what I call an 'innovation mix' - a mix of activity spanning 'incremental', 'differentiated' and radical innovation.

"When you communicate innovation in the right way, everyone realises they are able to contribute. Innovation isn't just about new products. It's about about product, service, experience, business model, brand, purchasing, logistics, and more.

"One of the big issues with stimulating innovation across an organisation is the polarisation of the two main types of innovation people both know about and hear about. The first is 'incremental innovation' - lean, continuous improvement, and so on. The second is 'radical innovation', which is at the other end of the scale. This is the big game-changing stuff.

"The issue is, everyone can contribute to incremental (small tweaks and changes), but only a small number will be able - or think they are able - to come up with big radical ideas. The result is innovation paralysis. The business asks for innovation, but people are already doing the small 'incremental' stuff and presume the business is asking for the big radical stuff. Many people think that the big radical stuff isn't something they can contribute to, so paralysis kicks in and nothing happens.

"The solution is something I call 'differentiated innovation'. Differential innovation is positioned smack bang in the middle between incremental and radical innovation. It's a way of giving people an achievable stepping stone so they come up with stuff that's bigger than incremental, but not too big, which would be radical.

"The key with positioning 'differentiated innovation' is also to concentrate on customer-focussed problems. It really helps stimulate innovation by positioning activity that people feel they can contribute to, whilst also focussing on innovating around the customer, which really helps drive differentiation and growth."

How do you filter out bad ideas early enough to prevent them from bringing the organisation down?

Anna Mazzone says, "This requires discipline by management team in evaluating the solution. I find that a three-staged approach works well.

"The first phase requires market research based on data gathered from industry SMEs to ascertain the scope and complexity of the problem you wish to solve. This information can then be used as comparative analysis to the company's core competencies to determine whether there is a good fit and to determine the amount of further investment required to explore a commercial solution.

"The second stage is to test the idea with a group of key clients who are friendly to the company. This requires presenting the business problem to the clients and showing them the solution. This second stage will provide you critical feedback on the design, the size of commercial problem, and the desire for the client to pay for a solution. If a representative portion of your market does not define the problem and/or solution the way you defined it, then management should either agree not to continue research or go back to stage one.

"Finally, the third stage is to operate a proof of concept with two to four 'build-partner' clients. This will provide an understanding of integration challenges, resource investments, conversion rates, and it will further validate the commercial value of the solution. Information gathered from this stage will serve as data points to support a business case for building a scalable and repeatable solution. This produces what is called a minimum viable product (MVP). If the ROI is unacceptable to the company's standard-or if the ROI predictions cannot be proven-the project should be cancelled."

Are intrapreneurship programmes self-sustaining, or do they depend on one or two individuals to keep them going?

According to Maggie De Pree, "Initially, these projects are typically personality driven. It's similar to entrepreneurs - where the founder is key to getting the initiative off the ground.

"Effective intrapreneurs (and entrepreneurs), however, think about succession as well as embedding the innovation into the business. They bring stakeholders along with them from the very beginning. It's a constant tension - you need space to experiment and innovate without the organizational DNA over-influencing your approach. But you also need to be accepted eventually by the host company. Navigating this balance is certainly one of the things intrapreneurs must constantly be thinking about."


Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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