What Is An Intrapreneur?

The Intrapreneur’s 10 Commandments is enough to scare the daylights out of most managers.

The list — written by Gifford Pinchot, the guy who coined the word “intrapreneur” in the 1980s — reads like a manual in subversion. It includes such pearls of wisdom as, “Come to work each day willing to be fired,” and “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.” There’s my personal favorite, “Work underground as long as you can — publicity triggers the corporate immune system.”

It conjures up images of rebellious employees running amok, which sounds like chaos to anyone in the confines of a corporate structure. But Pinchot has an excellent point. And it’s all about unleashing the kind of creativity, ingenuity and problem solving that can take a business from good to great.

Since I left the corporate world to focus on my business, I am often asked to explain what I mean by intrapreneur. Even though the concept has been around for several decades, it pains me a bit to know that so many folks still haven’t bought into it. Simply put, an intrapreneur is someone who is an entrepreneur on the inside. An intrapreneur is an employee who is willing and able to develop and implement innovative solutions, often independently or with a small team. An intrapreneur is someone who creates exponential impact to an organization, whether it’s a global operation or a mom-and-pop store.

I am an intrapreneur.

Actually, I’m an intrapreneur turned entrepreneur. I went to work at Cisco after cutting my teeth at an e-commerce startup. I was young. I was resilient. I was relentless. I was also accustomed to doing more with less, which is the mantra of startups. At Cisco, I learned the budget cycles and used that knowledge to co-opt enough money from other departments to launch a small pilot program. The program was a big success.

If intrapreneurs are such visionaries, then why aren’t they taking their talents and walking out the door to start their own businesses, just like I did? Many do. But the prospect is a scary one, because 90 percent of the 350 million startups launched in the last 15 years have failed. Let’s face it, most of us need a steady paycheck. We want to keep the lights on and know where our next meal is coming from, even if it’s Bojangle’s.

That’s why I want managers to see that there is no better time than RIGHT NOW to identify and cultivate the intrapreneurs within their organizations. There’s still so much uncertainty in the job market, that RIGHT NOW is the time to give your intrapreneurial souls the support they need to do great things right where they are.

Employees intrinsically want to make an impact. Employees hold all the information and experience to explore new markets, create new solutions and innovate from within, but it is up to leaders to unearth the creative and lucrative potential of their talent.

While all employees have the capacity to innovate, it’s more obvious in certain employees than others. Those aggressive, persistent, challenging, risk-taking, idea-pitching, brilliant, sometimes annoying employees are your intrapreneurs. The intrapreneurs in your organization could be from any demographic or experience level. It could be the veteran staffer or the millennial (don’t let the skinny jeans and lattes fool you. These are a hard-working bunch!).

Sure, entrepreneurs are in vogue. They are the disruptors who reshape entire segments of the economy. From the window of your corporate office, you may look out there at them and feel a little envy. Why can’t someone on your team be that guy/girl. It’s time to shift your perspective: Maybe your disruptor has been there all along, hiding in plain sight. Instead of fighting it, think about what you can do to encourage it.

I’m going to leave you with one last point from the Intrapreneur’s 10 Commandments that I think speaks directly to managers: “Never bet on a race unless you are running in it.” What a great reminder that it takes teamwork to effect change! Set aside your fears that perhaps your star employee may one day eclipse you. Real intrapreneurship means everybody wins, and isn’t that what we all want?

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K. Melissa Kennedy

Chief Innovation Officer, Founder, Intrapreneur. Entrepreneur. Enthusiastic leader and speaker. Teller of truths at 48 Innovate
I spent many years working for and building successful companies. I parlayed that experience into a unique process for harnessing hidden assets inside organizations and turning them into big-idea-generating, $1-billion-revenue-producing resources. (Spoiler alert: it’s the people.) I'm an internationally acclaimed expert, happy to share the not-so-secrets that have led to impressive outcomes for Fortune 100 corporations, major educational institutions, start-up companies and entrepreneurs. Working with companies like Cisco, Lancope, Arby's, Capitol Broadcasting Company New Media - WRAL, PRSONAS, Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog, REVO Communications, Erno Group, Focus Carolina, Madan Global, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, INZONE Brands, Albright Digital, Spring Metrics and NC State Kenan Fellows.

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