One of the cardinal sins that many businesses commit – whether implicitly or accidentally – is to stifle the creativity of employees who are bright, ambitious and have designs on climbing the internal ladder. Often, inward-looking management and the bureaucratic process can leave these talented charges with little opportunity to flourish.
A creative environment and a management structure that encourages idea generation and internal problem solving is essential in nourishing the abilities of employees and in helping to minimise staff turnover; nobody wants to be met with a metaphorical brick wall when attempting to present ideas and innovations. Naturally, the organisation itself can benefit from tapping into the experiences and knowledge base of those who know the business better than anybody else.
This concept is known in broad terms as intrapreneurship, i.e. enabling staff the time and resources to not only create original ideas but also see them through to the prototyping/pitching stage. The term was latterly used by Steve Jobs in his Newsweek article1 of 1985 in his classic 'back to the garage' piece.
So whether you are stifling creativity and intrapreneurship as a deliberate tactic or by your unknowing action, maybe it’s time you took a step back and considered how you could encourage your staff to take ownership of their ideas and turn them through mere daydreams and blue sky thinking into potentially profitable business decisions.
If intrapreneurship hadn’t been encouraged in the following examples, we might just have missed out on some key cultural and technological events that have shaped millions of lives.
Facebook – 'Likes'
Liking a post or photograph on Facebook is as familiar to modern culture as reading a book was to a generation decades ago. But this wasn’t the brainchild of a late night idea generation session by Mark Zuckerberg and co; it came from their celebrated 'hack-a-thons', where coders and engineers are given a platform to create and develop ideas.
So next time you click the Like button on your Facebook page, remember its origins. It came about because the social network embraced a culture of intrapreneurship... and has been reaping the benefits ever since.
Sony – Playstation
Not many people know this, but the original Sony Playstation was, in essence, a prototype based on the original Nintendo console. It’s creator? An 'intrapreneur' working for Sony as a junior member of staff.
Ken Kutaragi had been tinkering with his daughter’s Nintendo in an attempt to make it more powerful and deliver a better gaming experience, and eventually he came to the conclusion that an independent soundcard would improve the quality of game that could be produced.
Unfortunately, his bosses at Sony didn’t quite agree and apparently ignored his ideas; until the CEO of the company recognised the value in joining the gaming industry. Kutaragi was allowed to keep his job at Sony while working on the prototype alongside Nintendo’s development team. Incredibly, Nintendo rejected what would become known as the Playstation... and Sony jumped at the chance. The rest, as they say, is history.
3M – The Post-It Note
The humble Post-it Note: we’ve all used them to write down phone numbers, shopping lists and draw crude portraits of the person sitting at the desk opposite us. But did you know they were created in an act of early intrapreneurship in 1980?
3M were one of the first multi-national corporations to recognise the creativity contained within their workforce, and allowed them to spend up to 15 per cent of their work time developing new projects. From here, scientist Spencer Silver developed an adhesive that wasn’t complete rock solid – it was a more user-friendly 'stickiness'.
Unfortunately, he struggled to find an end use for it, until some five years later Art Frey, a colleague at 3M, recognised that the sticky solution could solve an everyday problem he was experiencing: his bookmarks falling out of his reading book.
The Post-it Note was born, and after an intense marketing campaign became a favourite of offices and stationers across the globe.
Google - Gmail
Like 3M, Google is a company that embraces intrapreneurship by offering their workforce a 20 per cent timeframe on developing personal projects relating to the business. One such project from Paul Buchheit was the initial template for Gmail, particularly the search function (the first of its kind from email service providers) and increased storage capacity.
Today, Gmail remains one of the most widely-used email platforms on the web; driving key traffic to Google’s products. And all thanks to the brainchild of one of their employees.
They say that we’ve all got a novel in us, but how about a multi-million pound grossing movie script? DreamWorks Studios, the company behind Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon and Madagascar, believe so anyway.
DreamWorks offer their employees free classes, from script development to pitching, and then put them in front of the company’s real executive team who will listen to their ideas and – should they be of the requisite standard – put them into development!