Innovation has been growing at an unprecedented pace and exponential rate. The abundance of efficient tools readily available for entrepreneurs makes starting a venture far more affordable than ten years ago when the basic foundations to start a tech company would have cost around a whopping $100K.
In 2016, entrepreneurs can source tech company servers, manage legal fees, and start a company for just a few thousand dollars. This has received the attention of established companies and quite frankly scares them, and rightly so. With an increase in innovation, the market becomes more competitive and anything is possible.
Innovation is why a company like Instagram was valued at $1 billion with only 12 engineers on the team, while simultaneously an established photo company, Kodak, is pushed out of the game into bankruptcy, and irrelevance. Kodak had all of the resources and technology to rival Instagram, but apparently none of the intrapreneurship or sense of innovation. For these large established companies it can be harder to stay ahead of the game, encourage disruption, and keep their employees excited.
This need to remain competitive is creating an ongoing shift in corporate structure that revolves around intrapreneurship, as executives within large organisations recognise that behaving as an entrepreneur would in a start-up setting, can put them ahead in quarterly reports.
Drawing from my experience as an entrepreneur co-founding Studypool, here are the essential factors that translate from building a successful start-up, to cultivating a culture of intrapreneurship and innovation in a larger company.
1. Think big picture. If you are focused purely on your own bonus, or getting a promotion you are unlikely to come up with the kind of ideas that can propel your company to the leading edge. While looking after your career is important, innovation comes from recognising much bigger trends. Focus on what you believe your company will need in five or 10 years’ time. For managers, creating this kind of thought process can be as straightforward as a monthly meeting where team members share their 'unicorn idea'.
Some entrepreneurs take big picture thinking even one step further. "If your life work can be achieved in your lifetime, you're not thinking big enough." This quote by Wes Jackson is a cornerstone of innovation because it demonstrates the kind of radical attitude necessary to inspire true change.
2. Promote failure. One of the key aspects of being an entrepreneur is learning to fail, reassess and persist. Failures are in fact experiments from which you take key learnings, before refining your next venture or idea. To be an intrapreneur within a larger company means becoming comfortable with potentially flaming out on some of your initiatives. Unlike when it's an early stage company, the good news is, you'll be fine, and the ship should stay it's course. Meaning, it's not the end for the whole company, just your new concept.
3. Gain an appetite for risk. One of the most dangerous things that can happen within any workplace is apathy. When teams get comfortable, and lazy in their innovation, a company's decline is inevitable. Paradoxically, taking risks is the answer to keep momentum moving forward and increasing the odds for further success. Encouraging this kind of mindset leads to innovation and progress.
4. Set KPIs, data crunch and create benchmarks. A foundation around metrics is key to keeping entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs disciplined and goal oriented. The same applies for larger organizations where data is king and metrics ensure you know exactly how successful your team is in reaching their goals.
All companies need to foster intrapreneurship and innovation because it's the only way they can ensure they remain competitive. Many of the qualities that are put to good use in building a successful start-up, are integral to building the culture of intrapreneurship that creates legacy companies at the forefront of change. The next time you are reading about Elon Musk or Jessica Alba's strategies in starting companies, remember that these same entrepreneurial qualities can build innovation within your own larger organisation - and that today we all need to be intrapreneurs.