10 Tips for Intrapreneurs


I spent a few hours the other day with a ultra-successful corporate intrapreneur. I was so impressed I thought I’d share her top ten tips for success.

  1. The business as it stands now today is the business. Accept that, don’t fight it. It’s the thing that’s providing you a job. That’s not the kind of support you want to be getting rid of.
  2. You don’t work for a start-up. You work for a corporate, so you need to behave appropriately. Appropriate behaviour means showing up to all the pointless corporate meetings, responding to all the pointless corporate emails and filling in all the pointless corporate forms. Remember, you’re the only one, probably, who thinks they’re pointless.
  3. Just because you’re not a start-up doesn’t mean you can’t be nimble and fast. You just can’t be so fast you blow everything around you into bits.
  4. Relationships are key to everything. Build them, cultivate them, love them. If they don’t love you back, keep trying till they do.
  5. Relationships aren’t politics. Don’t play politics no matter how good an idea it seems. Politics always bite, and the bite really is worse than the bark.
  6. Be satisfied with the wins you get, however small. You have to believe you’re on a journey not a cliff edge.
  7. Be Zen about failure. Calmness is the key to turning failure into success.
  8. Bringing in the money is going to be important, sooner or later. Best to plan for sooner because even the smallest amount of new money is evidence you’re moving forward.  No matter how good everything else you do is, it isn’t evidence.
  9. Avoid creativity traps. Also be cautious around people whose primary value proposition is “creativity”. They are distracting to the main game of creating new business, a task which is only a creative exercise for about the first 5 minutes.
  10. No matter what your corporate salary is, there are easier ways to earn the same amount. Being an intrapreneur is a job which requires you to personally bring the mountain to Mohammad. If you’re going to last, you must love what you’re doing.

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John Gardner is an intrapraneur, innovator and author, and works for Spigit as General Manager, International.

James Gardner




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  1. Thomas Blekman on September 12, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    Great post. I recognize most. In enduring stable markets, a manager will be effective with good planning and operating excellence. But in changing and therefor unpredictable surroundings, managers should be willing to learn a lot from uncertainty specialists: expert entrepreneurs.

    Our future is subject to the dynamism of markets in a world changing at a breath-taking pace, often in the most surprising ways; from unexpected angles or angles even undreamt of! Those who do not innovate, who fail listen to the market carefully, who fail to keep up with the continuous stream of developments, will face a very uncertain future; this is as much certainty as we have. So they tell you to create your own future… but how? I have good news! Thanks to a new method, based on epoch-making scientific research, managers can create their own future as effectual intrapreneurs. This method is now described in my new book, Corporate Effectuation.

    In it, I combine the desire of organizations to remain in control, while leaving space for employees to be enterprising. It is getting less and less useful to make people study only operational excellence and cost control with only the Six Sigma black belts. Top management should have ambitions that go beyond the consolidation of the status quo; they should have convictions and focus. Employees should have passion and the room and guidance to explore as well. Management must have the guts to let the reins go and determine the strategic course together with employees. Some might think that leads to chaos, even a sign of weakness in leadership. I would rather say its structured chaos, leading to strategic flexibility. Chaos is not the same as acting chaotically. With Corporate Effectuation, you can create sustainable value by involving employees and taking their insights dead serious.
    My view on corporate entrepreneurship is based on the scientific research of Indian entrepreneur Saras Sarasvathy, supervised by Nobel Prize laureate Herbert Simon, which established that anyone can be a successful entrepreneur, even without the genes of Richard Branson. She investigated how successful entrepreneurs set to work, and discovered five simple principles that dominated their way of thinking, deciding and acting. The principles are recognizable, easy to understand and can be applied immediately. This makes them of that much value I can hardly see straight: the principles of Effectuation:

    1.Bird in hand: Start with the available means; make a means assessment: who you are, what you know, and whom you know and start imagining possible ends.

    2.Affordable loss: Invest only what you can afford to lose; focus on the downside mot the upside. Everyone can make excel calculations work.

    3.Crazy quilt: Create an expanding network of self-selected stakeholders, focus on partnerships rather than on competitors; co-create a future you and I want to live in.

    4.Lemonade: Be open to surprises and treat them as useful input rather than hindrances; if the world offers you lemons, make lemonade or a delicious Lemon Frosted Lemon Cake.

    5.Pilot in the plane: Co-create the future with what’s within your control.

    I apply Effectuation particularly to the corporate world. Effectuation research has proven that the principles are very valuable and usable for start-ups and self-employed, but I wished to demonstrate to managers that entrepreneurship can also be a great help in making an existing enterprise flourish. Having a background in a corporate setting and being an entrepreneur, I recognized the great value in applying Effectuation in the setting I know so well.

    In changing and therefor unpredictable circumstances, managers should be willing to learn from uncertainty specialists: expert entrepreneurs and become effectual intrapreneurs, enabling managers to orchestrate an “enduring high-performance organization”!


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