What is an Innovative Intrapreneur?

Chris Perry-Swarm Apprenticeships

We see the word Entrepreneur a lot, but what is an Intrapreneur?

When we choose an overseas holiday destination, one of the first things we consider is to go long haul or short haul. This decision is really important as if you’re planning on a weekend away, then choosing Hong Kong for instance may not be the best idea for a relaxing break unless you really like the inside of a Boeing 747.

This notion of understanding your journey time in relation to your goals is also vital when deciphering if you’re going to be a more effective entrepreneur or if you’re happy to strap yourself in for a long flight and go down what we call the intrapreneur path.

One of the fundamental elements of what we teach all Swarm apprentices is what it is to become an "Innovative Intrapreneur" so they can learn to find opportunities in their own businesses.

So what is an intrapreneur? The word has only been around for a short while as a description for people who use a lot, if not all, of the skills of an entrepreneur but work within an organisation maximising on opportunities for growth and efficiencies.

We cannot and should not all aim to be successful entrepreneurs like we see on TV as most of those you speak to have had business partners who have been the business brain and taken the idea to make it into a successful global brand.

Both of these two people have the mind-set and skills that almost mirror each other but where the risk taking entrepreneur may want to dabble in many, the resilient intrapreneur wants to pick up, mould and expand. Both are equally creative as each other but whereas one will look to the external world for entirely new solutions, the other will follow the established brand purpose and values as a guide and apply that to seeking new ideas that offer efficiencies or product innovations that have the ability to expand the businesses profitability or brand influence.

In short, it is empowering employees to look for a gap or opportunities in your existing marketplace/business, create a plan and then take ownership of the new project or service using the skillset of an entrepreneur and possibly the team to make it happen.

So what does an innovative intrapreneur look like? In order to be an effective intrapreneur you have to be able to find a problem, create a solution and turn this into a new opportunity, for profitability, growth or expansion. Then you need to create a vision that can be interpreted into a long term business plan and make sure it does not deviate away from the original purpose of the organisation. Once you have this you need to be able to make sure the project is financially viable and offers the ability to be sustainable.

So what skillset do you need to be able to be an innovative intrapreneur?

1: Big picture thinker– You have to be able to see the whole forest and its goals rather than just the trees within it.

2: Be an inquisitive challenger – Ever had a 5 year old keep asking “Why” or “Why not?” This is a good trait as long as you’re not annoying. How else can you find the problem and spot the solution?

3: Embrace risk and failure – This is a fundamental one that stops a lot of innovation. We learn by failing and I have never met a good entrepreneur that’s not failed a few times before that killer idea takes off.

4: Be a relentless armadillo —If you have a vision that you believe in then don’t stop trying until you achieve it. Along the way you will get hit and knocked down so learn, shrug it off and try again.

5: Network and build your contacts —You will never achieve anything by just being confined to your own business. Get out and meet others in the business world. They are your toolbox and everyone in it a possible collaborator, sound board or customer to get the job done.

6: Passion and enjoyment — Without this you will never succeed. You have to live the idea, want it, taste it and strive to enjoy even the hardest challenge to infect others with the desire you have to see the vision through.

7: Play well with others — You won’t be able to do everything on your own and you will need the support of others to achieve your vision. You should aim to collaborate a win-win for people rather than a compromise.

8: Accept you don’t know what you don’t know — You have to be able to knuckle down and learn things that will put you right out of your comfort zone. Don’t get blindsided by a law or policy that you have no control over.

9: Adaptive and flexible, “Embrace change”- You will have to adapt to changes in the workplace, market or both and that means you may have to set goals on the fly to achieve your original vision. A “No” or “Can’t” never has a full stop after it, only ever a question mark.

10: Respect the bigger vision — This is one of a few fundamental things that separate an entrepreneur from an intrapreneur. This may not be your business and you’re playing in a pre-determined ballpark. Respect that and use your ideas and skills to strengthen your boss’s big vision, not create a new one.

These ten traits are really just the start of what makes a truly innovative intrapreneur, and we all have some of these if we get the opportunity to let them be used.

Remember, there really is no such thing as a crazy idea, in fact, some of the brightest inventions today came from what was at the time, a crazy idea. You just have to back it up. You need to come up with the research, financial figures and an implementation plan that shows how it could work. All that’s then required is the will to take a risk and the determination to see it through as you have to think like one to become one. That means you have to take ownership and accountability of what you’re doing and if it’s your idea, then the buck well and truly stops with you.

Chris Perry (Managing Director of Swarm)

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