In the summer of 2004, I was in a workshop at Hollyhock in BC when my son, then about 28, said, “Dad, you can’t stay indoors all week in weather like this. Why don’t you play hooky for one afternoon and let me show you how my generation has fun.” (more…)
You find yourself in a large organization that does not seem to be designed with your needs in mind. You need work with purpose and the freedom to do it your way. You want work that aligns with your desire to make the world better and need the opportunity to make a significant contribution without having first to wait in line until you are 50. You need the freedom to choose projects to work on and to make decisions without frustrating delays waiting for permission.
I understand, but if your bosses were looking at this list they might say, “What have you been smoking? Real life isn’t like that. Grow up.”
Given how corporations work, you are asking a lot. You are asking management for freedom, protection from the bureaucracy and support. Giving you what you want costs them time, political capital, and hassle. Why should they go through all that for you and your idea?
The good news is this: For reasons that you might have seen in the Memo to the CEO, your employer desperately needs innovation.
Your employers need you to bring in information from the edge, out beyond where corporations are comfortable and figure out what it means in terms of what the corporation can do to remain relevant, to do what matters, to get the jump on what comes next. They need your courage to keep exploring. They need the right kind of crazy, wild, but sensing how to connect aspirations to the possible.
As an intrapreneur you are part of a revolutionary movement to reshape how humans work together in large groups.
We are just discovering how to make freedom work to produce an exquisite and dynamic order rather than chaos. This is the next step to produce a steep change in organizational effectiveness. Intrapreneurship and cooperation are two keys. You are part of this transition.
What guides humans out beyond where AI can go is not something that can be put in a slide deck or explained to a committee. Contrary to the operating beliefs of most corporate cultures, the most effective driver of innovation is heart coupled with mind in an intimate dance.
To get the exquisite human guidance system needed for rapid and cost effective innovation corporations have to trust their intrapreneurs to find the path through all the obstacles, mistakes and disappointments on the way to finding the pattern of success.
They must free employees to do what they can see needs to be done, not just to follow a script or standard operating procedure. And employees must rise to the challenge of being worthy of that trust.
Be a member of one of those liberated teams who are co-creating the future. Let this memo be an inspiration to help you to be effective in earning the right to innovate and in delivering the goods.
This memo is a call to greatly increasing your chances of getting to make your dreams happen. It will not be easy. There will be dark days when you barely have the will to go on. But you will also get to win some of the time and in those times to make a big difference.
This article is part of a series of memos to the different stakeholders of intrapreneurship. Stay tuned for the memo to middle managers, women intrapreneurs and older intrapreneurs.
Although addressed to you, this memo will be read by your employees, who will begin implementing intrapreneuring with or without your support. It will go better for you and your shareholders if you get involved in building the environment for intrapreneuring.
The young talent you need to drive innovation is not buying the old social contract between corporation and employee. They are demanding work that is personally meaningful, work that is aligned with their environmental values and/or concern for social justice. They expect substantial freedom to make decisions and the opportunity to make major contributions early in their careers.
In essence, they are demanding an intrapreneurial career. If you don’t meet their needs, they will stay with you only long enough to get trained and put your company on their résumé. Many of the best of your older employees have similar attitudes and needs. If their needs are not met they may retire on the job or leave to start their own firm.
Though these independent attitudes do cause problems, if you understand how to manage them, these intrapreneurial attitudes can work strongly in your favor. Your intrapreneurial employees, young and old, can deliver the radical increases in the volume, quality and cost effectiveness of innovation that you need to deal with today’s disruptive economy.
How serious is the need for intrapreneurs today?
- Almost every industry is being or will soon be disrupted by exponentially evolving technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, genetics, nanotechnology, 3D printing, robotics, online learning, online marketing and social networking. According to Deloitte, “In the next ten years 50% of the S&P 500 will be replaced by digital disrupters.” The new game is disrupt your industry or be disrupted. Don’t be roadkill.
- Acquisition has proved to be no substitute for internal innovation. Two years after I sold our software business for $2.3 million dollars per employee, not one of my former employees was still working for the acquiring company. Unless you can maintain an intrapreneurial culture in the businesses you buy, their value declines rapidly.
- The world is unstable. Natural disasters such as hurricanes, flooding and droughts are increasing. There are increasing numbers of failed states. Subcultures are changing rapidly. You will need people close to the ground in many geographies and many subcultures to read what is going on and respond rapidly and creatively. This means empowering yet more intrapreneurs.
- Big companies now innovate in partnership with startups and other entrepreneur-led firms. To co-innovate with entrepreneurial firms you need to come close to matching their ability to experiment, learn and change at warp speed. You can only be an effective partner to entrepreneurial firms if the relationships are managed on your side by intrapreneurs who are free to act rapidly without being second guessed by bureaucrats.
So what can you do?
You may think you can get breakthrough rates of innovation through suggestion programs, stage gate processes or the like.
Dr. William Souder spent ten years studying 289 innovations in 53 different companies hoping to discover a process that could drive innovation success. He could not find one. Instead his primary conclusion was, “The intrapreneur is an essential ingredient in every innovation.” The system inevitably resists innovations that take resources from or threaten to replace the existing ways of delivering value to customers. Significant innovation only happens when a committed team of intrapreneurs drives the innovation though all the barriers, failures, mistakes and seizing of emerging opportunities that mark the intrapreneurial journey.
It is not the right process that makes an organization innovative. It’s the close and trusting relationships between self-motivated intrapreneurs and their management sponsors that moves innovations forward through the inevitable resistance of any corporate system. Sponsors coach the intrapreneurial teams, protect them and help them access resources. Good sponsors can recognize the real intrapreneurs from the “promoters,” who look and sound good, but don’t get the job done.
Creating an intrapreneurial organization will not only give you a major competitive advantage and profitable growth, it will also create the legacy of happy, deeply engaged employees, suppliers and partners committed to your company’s well being. As a side benefit it will also make a large positive impact on society’s major problems. In total, this is a legacy that Wall Street will celebrate and, at the same time one you can be proud to explain to your grandchildren.
This article is the first in a series of memos to the different stakeholders of intrapreneurship. Stay tuned for the memo to middle managers, millennials, women intrapreneurs and older intrapreneurs.
The origin of the term “intrapreneur” came from a white paper titled “Intra-Corporate Entrepreneurship” which was written by myself and my wife Libba for the Tarrytown School for Entrepreneurs in the Fall of 1978. That paper led to rigorous debate, the coining of the term intrapreneur, and eventually publishing of the book “Intrapreneuring” in 1985.
In the 30 years since this book was published, the term intrapreneur has taken on a life of its own with many meanings and uses. How is “intrapreneur” being defined today? Wikipedia defines intrapreneurship as “the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organization”
Here are four more definitions to consider in 2017.
1. Intrapreneurs are employees who do for corporate innovation what an entrepreneur does for his or her start-up.
Intrapreneurs are the yeast that makes the bread rise. If you want more innovation the only way to get it done is to identify, develop, trust and empower your intrapreneurs. An organization must know how to select, manage and create the environment for intrapreneurs for them to thrive.
2. Intrapreneurs are the dreamers that do.
Intrapreneurs don’t just come up with ideas, their core role is turning ideas into success business realities. In fact, intrapreneurs sometimes are not the inventor, but they are always the implementer of new ideas. In this case their dreaming is not about coming up with the idea, but rather dreaming the pathway to turn them into a profitable realities.
In 1983, 3M’s chairman, Lew Lehr, said:
For many years the corporate structure [at 3M] has been designed specifically to encourage young entrepreneurs to take an idea and run with it. If they succeed, they can and do find themselves running their own business under the 3M umbrella.
The entrepreneurial approach is not a sideline at 3M. It is the heart of our design for growth.
Contrast this 3M philosophy with many of the so called “intrapreneurship programs” I have seen, which don’t get the doing part of the intrapreneurial role. They run idea contests or even accelerators to turn the ideas into business plans, and then turn the ideas over to someone else for implementation. That rarely works. You need intrapreneurs to turn good ideas and even good plans into a successful reality.
3. Intrapreneurs are self-appointed general managers of a new idea.
If you are passionate about an idea, begin an intrapreneur means doing something to move it forward. They don’t wait for someone to put them in charge. They build a team of volunteers. Find cheap ways to test the idea in the marketplace. They build rapid prototypes, which means making something that helps others to visualize what they are talking about. Beginning with cardboard mockups or static screen shots, they create something quick and easy.
As the general manager they show the rapid prototype to customers and make it better. Making it on the cheap lets them change it when they learn what customers really need and want.
To get management support, they show potential sponsors and customers responding enthusiastically to an idea. In the words of Winston Churchill’s graduation speech, intrapreneurs “Don’t give up. Don’t give up. Don’t give up.”
4. Intrapreneurs are drivers of change to make business a force for good.
An intrapreneur who focuses on innovations that make the world better may be known as a “social intrapreneur.” Social intrapreneuring is not just doing good. It often leads to disruptive innovations and highly profitable new businesses.
Some social intrapreneurs focus on innovations that address environmental problems. Others focus on innovations that extend the benefits of society to the less fortunate. Still others focus on health and a host of other benefits. When successful they all help their companies “to do well by doing good.”
The social intrapreneurs biggest challenge may be how to make your “doing good” motivated idea profitable for the company. By doing so the intrapreneur not only gets to start, but also to scale the idea and its impact.
Social intrapreneuring is becoming popular with millennials because it serves their desire to bring deep purpose and self-direction into their business careers. If a company is struggling with attracting, motivating and retaining millennials, supporting social intrapreneurs is the highway to millennial engagement. Stay tuned to learn how to engage your intrapreneurial talent with the challenges that matter to your business as well as to the larger world.
One of the many tasks intrapreneurs face is getting approval, funding and resources for their ideas. Of course getting organizational support is just a small part of the challenge of turning ideas into realities, but it is necessary and sometimes difficult step. Here a few tricks of the trade that make it easier.
- Ask for advice before you ask for resources
- Express gratitude
- This doesn’t matter; it’s only a test
- Hear objections as efforts to help
- Listen, test their assumptions, give thanks and morph your idea
- A coalition of sponsors
- It’s the outside of the idea the corporate immune system reacts to
- Rename and press on
- Restarting the clock
- Focus on the risk of not doing it.
- Play to the hummers
- Chaldini’s 6 Principles of Pursuasion
In this blog post I will only address the first, but will follow rapidly with the others in subsequent blogs.
Ask for Advice Before You Ask for Resources
Asking for what you need
Suppose you go to your boss and say, “I have this great idea.” You describe what it is in glowing terms and tell her how great it is going to be once it is implemented. Then as an extreme example of this approach you ask, “Can you give me a budget of $300,000 and a headcount of two for the year?”
There is a brief pause in the conversation. What do you suppose is going on in your boss’s mind?
Although you have described the idea compellingly, she has no way of judging whether your idea is good or bad. Opposing that uncertainty, she does know that she had plans for your work that relates to what she is immediately held accountable for. She does know that your absence on that task would somewhat reduce her chances of delivering what she has promised. And she does know that she does not have a spare $300,000 in her budget or a spare headcount of two more people.
The safest and most sensible thing for her to do is to say “no,” or the polite equivalent of “no” such as “not now” or I’ll think about it.” So she does.
As you walk away you may be thinking about what happened and reassure yourself, “At least I got her thinking about it.” But what is she actually thinking? At least subconsiously she is considering two possibilities:
- Your idea is actually a great idea, she said “no” to it, in which case she made a bad decision and she is a bad manager.
- Your idea is a bad idea, she said “no” to it, in which case she saved the company money and is a good manager.
Which will way of seeing the situation appeals the deep motivational structure of her emotional brain? She still does not know how to judge the financial value your idea, but she is quite sure she prefers to be a good rather than a bad manager. She chooses to see herself as good manager and therefore, so it all fits together, your idea is bad. That is not the result you wanted, so let’s try a different approach.
Asking for advice first
“Hi Susan, I have an idea for a new widget, but I don’t understand the market for it. Could you recommend someone in marketing who could answer a few quick questions to see if this thing could possibly work?”
What is she likely to do? You are not asking much or asking her to make a decision about your idea. It’s easy, she says, “Daniel Isagawa knows a lot about the widget market. He can help you.”
Now the truth is she has spend a tiny bit of Daniel’s time and her social capital on your idea. A similar logic holds:
- Your idea is a good idea and she has committed a small amount of corporate resources to it, so she is a good manager. Or
- Your idea is a bad idea, so she has wasted Daniel’s time and she is a bad manager.
Again she chooses “good manager,” so your idea becomes a bit better in her estimation. And this is in the direction of the movement you wanted, so asking for advice was a good strategy.
This psychological principle behind this surprising impact on decisions is called cognitive dissonance. We don’t like dissonance in our mind so we arrange our beliefs to reduce any dissonance by seeing things and acting in a way that all the ideas fit together comfortably. If saying “no” to an idea that might be good creates a dissonance with your belief that you are a good manager, you change your evaluation of the idea to reduce the dissonance. So the idea becomes bad. And vice versa.
From a practical point of view this leads to a simple rule: When trying to sell an idea, don’t ask for anything that causes important stakeholders to say “no” to it. Always ask for something to which they will say “yes.” And what is the one thing that people are almost always willing to give? Advice! So that is the place to start.
Later on, when the idea has achieved goodness in their minds though their small acts of support, you can ask for more. Again cognitive dissonance is on your side. They feel good about supporting it and don’t want to admit that they were wrong in supporting it earlier. So they commit more.
This is not to say that they are in any way unworthy of their leadership positions. It’s just how the human mind works underneath the veneer of rationality. Use this powerful tool for good, not for evil.
This is the first of a series of posts on how to sell your ideas.
Coming Next: Express Gratitude
In my last blog entry, How to Sell Your Ideas, I showed how asking for advice rather than resources was a powerful first step in selling a person whose support or resources you need. When people help you and your idea, even with a little bit of help like giving you advice, they become a little bit more receptive to your idea. In this post we take it a bit further by discussing what to can do to amplify the effect after you get advice.
Let’s say the person whose support you need is Brenda. Last week you told her that you needed help from someone in marketing. She introduced you to Bill.
So you go to Bill, who helps you better understand what customer’s might need from the new service you propose. As you talk to him, you see the opportunity to make a small improvement of your messaging and your business model. You go back to Brenda and tell her how Bill contributed to your idea of how to go to market. You explain the mistakes you can now avoid. You give genuine thanks.
What happens to Brenda’s attitude toward you and your idea? Before when she gave you a little help it made her friendlier to your idea. Now it turns out the help she gave was bigger than she had thought. Because she helped it more, she likes your idea more. More genuine gratitude for the advice she gave makes her opinion of your idea more positive. You have moved forward again.
Gratitude can even help convert someone who is dissing your idea. Suppose you are part of a team meets once a week. Every time your idea comes up, George criticizes it harshly. It is not only getting under your skin, it is also slowing you down by causing others to have less faith in you and your idea.
Here is what to do. Listen carefully to George. Listen to his criticisms with the goal of finding, among the issues he’s identifying, ones that you believe would be worth checking out. Perhaps you are you are not ready to see his criticism as help during the meeting, so just don’t get into a fight. Later, search for issues he raised that you think are interesting and do a little research on them.
If you research with an open mind, to your surprise you will probably find that one of more of the issues that George raised turn out to be legitimate concerns and suggest some changes in your plan.
In the next week’s meeting you thank George, “Thank you for raising that issue last week. I did some research and what I learned was important. You have helped me avoid a significant mistake. Thank you.”
Consciously or unconsciously, the fact that George has helped your idea feels good and makes his a bit more open to it. He moves toward a more neutral position. Keep accepting his help and he will probably end up on your side.
But here I have to give a big warning: GRATITUDE ONLY WORKS IF IT IS GENUINE.
If you pretend to be grateful but aren’t, it will probably make things worse. Nobody likes being BSed. And human beings, at least at the subconscious level, have pretty good BS detectors.
To apply gratitude effectively you have to feel it. To feel gratitude when your cherished idea, is being criticized is not necessarily easy. I like to say it requires emotional weight lifting. It’s about getting your ego out of the way, not defending yourself and instead seeing the good in others. Listen as generously as you can. Enjoy checking out the issues raised. Learn from them. Be glad you did. Then you can be genuinely thankful.
There is a bonus in gratitude: feeling gratitude and being happy are almost the same thing, especially when gratitude includes being grateful for the opportunities you get to be of service to others.
Some folks increase their overall capacity to feel and express gratitude by at the end of the day writing down a couple of things they are grateful for. But whether you like that idea or not, remember to express genuine gratitude for criticisms so you can turn what feel like attacks into help. As they say, it takes two to fight. Turn your enemies into friends.
The series so far:
Coming next: Avoid Triggering the Organizational Immune System
An intrapreneur in the grip of an idea often sees the grand potential of it in the many different innovations it makes possible. You are thrilled by the overall significance of it and the huge difference the idea and its children can make for the company. In selling it, you are tempted to say something that implies, “This will change everything.” You are tempted to tell everyone about it and the massive benefits that will come from it.
That is exactly the wrong message.
When a manager hears this, at some level it scares the heck out of them. They don’t want everything changed. They have a good job they want to keep. They have deliverables and don’t want resources pulled away from what they are being held accountable for. And they don’t want any big failures or turf wars that can be traced to them. They like things more or less the way they are, only a bit better.
For most managers, instead of saying how big your idea is, instead of talking about the massive changes it will produce, make it sound small and ordinary. Show how it fits right in with what is already going on and is already expected of them. If possible, position your idea as an extension of what is already going on.
The organizational immune system exists to stamp out ideas that are too different. Even if your idea is actually quite different, and we hope it is, don’t make it sound very different from what is already going on. It is just a new way of supporting an existing strategy or strategic intent.
This section of my blog series will continue next Monday with more on how to avoid triggering the organizational immune system.
Next Monday’s post will be on what I call, “It’s Only a Test” strategy.
Posts in this Series:
One way to make approving your idea easier is to reduce the consequences of the decision you are asking them to make. A manager confronted with a new idea they are not sure about has an easy out if they ask for more information before making the decision.
Play along with that tendency.
Position what you want to do as gathering more information before the important decision has to be made, not as asking permission to begin the roll out of the idea.
After asking for advice, a gentle next step is to ask for permission to do a feasibility study. After that, when you want to run a real market test, say, “It is only a test. The real decision comes later.” Once your innovation is delivering value to customers (internal or external) who are willing to pay, the decision to scale-up the test and continue next generation development becomes much less scary.
When Michael Phillips wanted to sell certificates of deposit to ordinary people rather than corporate treasurers, for whom CDs were originally designed, he told the stakeholders in operations, legal and marketing, “This is only a test.”
For example, he told the folks in operations, “This is only a market test. If the test reveals that people will actually buy them, then you can put the time and energy into designing operating systems to process them at scale. You don’t need to do anything but wait for the test results. There is no reason for a big operations design project if no one will buy them. For right now we can use this simple procedure (which he designed himself) for the test.” That was easy to say yes to.
Now Michael, who was on the wilder side of the intrapreneurship spectrum, then went out and sold forty million dollars of certificates of deposit in the three-month test. That put some pressure on his sponsor who had to protect Michael from the outrage that followed, but by then the product was so profitable that there was no turning back. For ordinary intrapreneurs it is probably better that when you say you are going to do a test, you keep it small.
The next step after a test is a pilot program – an extended test, and so it goes, one small step at a time so it never seems that new, never seems that different from business as usual.
Next Monday’s post in the series will be on “Framing Ideas So they Get Support.“
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Watanabe San, an engineer at NEC who had been assigned to selling microcomputers, was getting nowhere. This was several years before the first IBM PC and people could not imagine what microprocessors were for. To solve this problem he built a small computer to demonstrate an example of what microprocessors could do.
His boss was not pleased, because he thought sales were driven by number of sales calls that you make. Nonetheless, he let Watanabe San present the idea to NEC’s computer division. They laughed. The computers they were building filled a room. In their minds, the little computer was at best a toy.
Watanabe San did not give up. He went to the household products group and showed them what he had. He imagined new hobby clubs of engineers, who would play with the computer, build extensions to it and eventually design products that used the microprocessors that NEC had created. He was not well received in household products. This was not the kind of market they knew anything about.
At this point his boss lost patience. “You engineers are all the same,” he said. “You no sooner are given a sales job than you try to turn it into an engineering one. Stop working on the computer and go out and make sales calls.”
At this point Watanabe San did something unexpected. He took apart the computer, put it in a bag, put in instructions on how to re-assemble it, took out a magic marker and wrote “Sales Tool” on the outside of the bag. He went back and showed it to his boss. The result may surprise you. His boss was quite pleased, “Finally you are really working on selling microprocessors.”
Watanabe San began selling the computer in a bag and people bought them. He was surprised that the customers ranged from engineers to flight attendants and people from all walks of life. Someone added the interface for a screen, which the computer in a bag lacked. Someone else added a keyboard. The little computers grew more powerful and more useful. Sales grew. NEC became the largest manufacturer of PCs in Japan.
What this story illustrates is a very important fact: Like the human immune system, which responds to what is on the outside of a cell not the DNA inside, the corporate immune system responds to the outside of an idea, not to the essence on the inside. The inside of the idea was still a tiny computer. The outside as seen by his boss changed from a useless tiny computer to a tool for selling microprocessors, and that made it acceptable.
Positioning in marketing is about how you want the customer to see your offering. Getting the positioning right plays a major role in success. When seeking approval, and even in making sales to customers, intrapreneurs must pay attention to the power of the outside positioning of their idea. Later the internal essence matters to its usefulness and longevity in the market, but much less to whether it will be approved.
Spend time designing the outside of your idea so it does not threaten the corporate immune system and has an appeal to those whose support you need. The name and the elevator pitch may be all most deciders hear. Craft and test them carefully.
Rename and Press On
And when all else fails and your idea appears to have been definitively killed, rename and press on. This, in essence is what Watanabe San did. He renamed his computer project. A new name very often disguises the continuity of the effort and gives you a new start.
Next Monday we will post on a strategy called, “Restarting the Clock.“
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In corporations, new ideas seem to be given a time to reach success. They are tolerated for a while and then they become old news and since they have not produced the results that were hoped for, they are judged to be a failure and terminated. This is a problem because new ideas almost always take longer to reach success than what was originally planned. They may be killed when they are just on the verge of success.
How can you deal with this problem?
The trick is restarting the clock to give yourself more time. Renaming and pressing on is one “nuclear option” method of restarting the clock, but it can only be used a few times. There are less explosive ways of restarting the clock that can be used more liberally.
Hitting and celebrating a major milestone
Hitting a major milestone can often buy you more time. A big sale, if it doesn’t restart the clock from zero, generally does give you more time. To a lesser degree, so can overcoming a major technical challenge or even having a successful market test.
When the Post-it project was headed for extinction, Art Fry gave Post-its to the administrative assistants of all the big executives. They soon became addicted, and their bosses came to believe. Even though they had not yet figured out how to sell them to customers, the executives gave Art more time to figure it out.
By the way, in the end the way to sell Post-its was the same. They got Hallmark to drop a couple of pads in the bag of every customer. Soon they were coming back asking for more.
In the early stages of a new idea, when the clock is not near running out, keeping quiet may be best. The sense of elapsed time is less if your project never comes up in conversation. Then as the end of the clock approaches, it is time to promote surprising progress to reset the clock.
Bringing on board a major new sponsor with a different reason for using your innovation.
When Paul Martin at Hewlett Packard was trying to introduce double sided printing in the ink jet printer line, he found sponsorship in a staff group called Design for Variability. If the mechanical system that turned the paper over to print on the other side was in a separate module, then a printer in the store could be sold either as a single sided printer, or with the module attached as a double-sided printer. This cut inventory almost in half compared to one single sided and one double sided printer on the shelf. This is what design for variability is all about, delaying to the last possible moment the decision as to which variation of a product the one in inventory will become.
With the backing of design for variability, the product was developed, but killed at the last moment by marketing, which did not think they could project sales accurately enough to stay out of trouble.
Paul did not give up. He found two new sponsors, the European marketing organization, where resource conservation was taken more seriously than in the US, and a key customer, Hallmark, who wanted to print double sided items in the store such as customized bookmarks.
With two powerful new sponsors in addition to the first, Paul was able to restart the clock giving him time to bring the product to market. Since then, millions have been sold.
Next Monday’s post: “Don’t Run it up the Flagpole to See Who Salutes“
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