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The 8 Myths Keeping You From Being the Definition of Intrapreneurship Culture

Executive Summary

Cloaked in myths, the definition of intrapreneurship is not what you may think. A supportive intrapreneurship strategy not only encourages your employees to keep learning, but it can also result in innovative solutions and generate new revenue streams.

  • A number of organizations today are missing out on the benefits of embracing an intrapreneurial mindset thanks to a false understanding of what intrapreneurship entails.
  • For an intrapreneur to have the ability to execute their ideas, they need the active support of management and a culture and structure that encourages smart risks.  
  • Think twice if you think your company can’t afford to take the risks that come with creating a culture of intrapreneurship. Rather than see an intrapreneur leave and become your competition, why not consider nurturing them and encouraging them to innovate?

Look deeply into the subject of intrapreneurship and you find yourself confronted with contradictions. As I began work on Disrupt-It-Yourself, I pored over literature, read many accounts of classic intrapreneurial wins, and talked to people who have been involved in corporate innovation for years. I was inspired by the stories I heard of visionary employees who saw a need and managed to fill it, mainly through their own ingenuity and grit. Faced with resistance from colleagues, and with no expectation of resources or 20 percent time for exploration, they somehow beat the odds. They became the heroes of intrapreneurship.

At the same time, I started to doubt the mythology that has grown up around these heroes. Yes, many have been mavericks, iconoclasts, and dissenters. But in a twenty-first-century organization broadly committed to innovation—as many today are—would twenty-first-century intrapreneurs have to fly their pirate flag? And would that kind of person even have the same chances of success as someone on a more institutional path? And what about all the people who have been properly supported in their efforts to discover new customer needs and deliver on them—maybe even working in formal innovation roles? Do they not deserve to be called intrapreneurs or DIYers because their work didn’t involve pain and personal sacrifice?

It became clear that, in many ways, the intrapreneurial mythology we have inherited from the past is not serving us well today. It’s more exclusive than inclusive—and it’s making it harder for companies to innovate and grow. With three years of research and reflection behind me, I’m convinced: It is time to construct a new mythology of intrapreneurship—one that celebrates the skills and behaviors that drive innovation forward today. We can start by taking a hard look at the old one. Here are eight myths about intrapreneurs  that organizations must set aside in order to better support a Disrupt-It-Yourself environment.

WHAT THE DEFINITION OF INTRAPRENEURSHIP IS AND ISN’T

  • Myth 1: Intrapreneurship is too creative for a disciplined approach

Truth: Innovation is too important to be done in a random way.

  • Myth 2: Intrapreneurs go it alone.

Truth: Intrapreneurship is a team sport.

  • Myth 3: Only “creatives” become intrapreneurs.

Truth: Intrapreneurship requires a wide variety of talents and types. A successful intrapreneur can excel at any of them—and can’t be expected to have all of them.

  • Myth 4: Management’s best approach to intrapreneurs is benign neglect.

Truth: Management’s best approach to intrapreneurs is active support.

  • Myth 5: Intrapreneurs aren’t in it for financial rewards, and they don’t need performance metrics.

Truth: If you want more of anything, measure it—and reward it.

  • Myth 6: Intrapreneurs are just like entrepreneurs.

Truth: The typical intrapreneur is different from the typical entrepreneur in terms of both skills and motivation.

  • Myth 7: Innovation labs are the best place to house intrapreneurs.

Truth: The place for intrapreneurs is everywhere. Innovation centers help provide the discipline and network required to grow intrapreneurial initiatives from idea to execution.

  • Myth 8: Having an innovation strategy has nothing to do with cultivating intrapreneurship.

Truth: A clear innovation strategy is not only compatible with intrapreneurial activity—it is critical to taking intrapreneurship from a random event to a reliable engine of new solutions and revenue streams.

Excerpted with permission from Disrupt-It-Yourself: Eight Ways to Hack a Better Business--Before the Competition Does by Simone Bhan Ahuja, copyright Simone Bhan Ahuja.

Bring It Home

If I never hear a manager tell an employee to “stay in their lane” again, it’ll be too soon. Whether those words are driven by fear of financial implications or just plain ignorance, it arrogantly assumes that the employee doesn’t have any skills or the expertise outside of their job description. Shutting down those ideas, that intrapreneurship spirit, is a quick way to keep your company stuck with outdated solutions and employees who will invest their talents elsewhere.

Does your company support what it means to be an intrapreneur, or are they hesitant to support it because they’re confused about the definition of intrapreneurship? Comment below with one way you’ve seen an intrapreneurial spirit benefit a company, or how you think adopting it could help yours.

Dr. Simone Bhan Ahuja author of the book Disrupt-It-Yourself

Simone Bhan Ahuja

Strategist, speaker, and entrepreneur, Dr. Simone Ahuja is CEO of Blood Orange, a consulting company that supports innovation and intrapreneurship from idea through execution.

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