What’s an Intrapreneur and How to Be One

Most employees have a tendency to complain endlessly about the shortcomings of the company they work for. It might be human nature to complain — it’s not human nature to sink into a bad situation without at least trying to improve what’s swirling around us.

In his first book, New York Times best-seller Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love, author David Sturt makes a compelling case that nearly anyone, given the right mindset, can be the change they want to see and create a notable shift for themselves and those around them.

Possibly without realizing it, Sturt has expounded wisely on a concept that’s been around for decades — that of the Intrapreneur. Sturt and his company, O.C. Tanner, conducted a stunning array of research which included business leaders, writers, academics, Harvard and Cambridge PhDs and an extensive Forbes Insights analysis of 1,000 employees, supervisors and great work beneficiaries in order to validate their information.

Distilled into two categories: how difference makers think and what they do, the stories are inspiring, thoughtful and illuminating. But what exactly is an intrapreneur…

A Brief History of Intrapreneurship

Simply put, intrapreneurship is behaving like an entrepreneur while you’re working at a large organization. This involves assertive risk-taking and innovation, not just waiting around to be asked to do something.

Perhaps one of the earliest and best-known examples of intrapreneurship is “Skunk Works” at Lockheed Martin. Skunk Works is an official alias for their Advanced Development Programs (ADP) and is responsible for a number of famous aircraft designs.

In 1976, as part of an article in The Economist, Norman Macrae suggested a number of business trends. Among them “that dynamic corporations of the future should simultaneously be trying alternative ways of doing things in competition within themselves.”

Macrae suggested that “firms should not be paying people for attendance, but should be paying competing groups for modules of work done.” In 1982, he noted (also in The Economist) that the trend had “resulted in confederations of intrapreneurs.”

Around that same time, Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot were developing a similar concept: the intra-corporate entrepreneur. Their early success in Sweden led to their school for intrapreneurs and in 1986, their first book, Intrapreneuring.

Steve Jobs described the Macintosh computer development as an “intrapreneurial venture within Apple.” And by the early 1990s, The American Heritage Dictionary added intrapreneur to its dictionary and Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School mentioned the need for “intrapreneurial development” in her book, When Giants Learn to Dance.

Whats an Intrapreneur and How to Be One image 2013 10 21 roflbot1Whats an Intrapreneur and How to Be One

Nine Steps to Doing Great Work

David Sturt simply and succinctly refers to intrapreneurship as “great work.” Meaning, taking that extra, imaginative step is the key to performing great work as opposed to good work. It’s also a key to turning a hard-edged, nine to five job into something worth getting up for in the morning; something that makes us feel good about what we bring to the table and how we get it there.

But it takes desire, effort and tenacity to do great work. Some may ask: How do we make that change from just another employee to an “intrapreneur”?

During an interview in NYC two months ago, I sat down with David and picked his brain about his book and his philosophy on what it takes to be an intrapreneur (or as Sturt says, what it takes to do Great Work). Although his book contains many fine examples of the who, how and what it takes, Sturt gave me some great steps we can all follow in order to become an intrapreneur.

  1. Ask the Right Questions - Talk to your “inner circle.” Take a look around you. What kind of project could you start? Something new? Something better? Something everyone can appreciate?
  2. Ask What People Will Love - Anyone with even a slight ability to observe should be able to find at least one projects that everyone might love. And it doesn’t need to be a huge one or one you’ve been asked to do. Find something people need and want–for example…
  3. Tackle a Problem - Is there a process that doesn’t work? Learn more about it. Turn a bad process into an opportunity for improvement. Think small, then think big.
  4. Consider What You’re Good At - Everyone’s good at something. Statistics show that we carry around a lot more information in our brains than we realize. We all have a history — we know things and we understand things. Respect it, pay attention to it and understand it.
  5. Think Out on the Edge - Do you have an idea that’s a bit scary to some or even to you? Chances are it’s worth pursuing. The best things in life are the scary ones: growing up, getting married, having kids, starting your own business, stepping outside of our comfort zone. Let your imagination fly, then find creative ways to make it happen.
  6. See For Yourself - Others may miss what we’ll see right away. Once again, being observant is the key. See what’s being done; how people are doing it; what the process is. Then examine those details and explore other possibilities.
  7. Talk to Others - By now you’ve done your “inner” homework and spoken to everyone you work with. But getting ideas and feedback from outside sources (your “outer network”) is just as important. Everyone loves to give their opinions. Take note and let one conversation lead to another, then gather it together and explore everything, negative and positive.
  8. Deliver the Unexpected - Look before you leap. Don’t just come up with any idea. Create something useful and surprising. Think it through. Sketch out ideas, plan, shape and fine-tune until you have something solid and workable.
  9. Deliver the Difference - Sometimes you have to be obsessed with a project in order to make it a reality. Stick to it until you find someone who likes it. If they don’t, fine tune it. Fail-forward toward success and learn what works along the way.

Ask yourself one thing — are you doing good work or great work? If it’s great work, I’d love to hear about it.

Originally published on Huffington Post

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