Going back to the garage – the rise of the intrapreneur

I recently attended a Fintech Meetup involving 400 people to hear the CEO of one of Australia’s four biggest banks speak about his innovation strategy. Unsurprisingly, it is to embrace innovation through technology and to create a “people first” culture.  Interestingly, the people involved in organizing and hosting the event were mostly ex bankers, and now highly motivated and enthusiastic start-up fin-tech entrepreneurs and not corporate intrapreneurs!

The CEO stated “all the innovations in Fintech over the past 10 years could have been done by a bank and we still supply the plumbing”

Having worked extensively in the domain of leadership in the financial services industries over the past 20 years, it made me ask; where have all the most exciting high potential and courageous leaders gone?

Gone to start-up garages everywhere!

It seems that the financial services industry, especially here in Australia, is still grappling with 2 key complex 21st-century problems.

These involve knowing how to;

  • Juggle being disruptive with innovative technologies, products, and services within an inherently risk-averse, compliant and conventional enterprise culture,
  • Differentiate and add value by providing both a great customer experience and sustaining customers’ trust whilst simultaneously delivering increased shareholder value.

It looks like these complex problems have catalyzed a range of reactive responses; including seeking innovative new technologies and products via mergers, and the acquisition of Fintech start-ups. Many of which have largely failed to deliver on their promises.  Or have become frozen into complete inaction and confusion around the complex task of re-inventing their legacy of largely centuries-old business models.

Innovative crypto technologies incorporating block-chain and cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin are disrupting banking at two levels, as predicted in a May report called Cryptotechnologies, a Major IT Innovation and Catalyst for Change by the Euro Banking Association;

“The first wave [of innovation] will concentrate on deeper automation of existing processes. The second will arise from new innovations based on the application of the exclusive features of crypto technologies.”

“In other words, distributed ledger technology is likely to disrupt financial services first by making existing processes more efficient, secure, transparent and inexpensive, and then later by creating new products that we can’t even dream of”.

Mr. Funke Kupper, CEO of the Australian Stock Exchange said in a recent SMH article that there had been very little innovation in post-trade equity services for the past 20 years. However, blockchain technology may result in near real-time settlement of trades which would reduce systemic risk, and also slice back-office administration and compliance costs for market participants.

Coindesk, recognized as the world leader in news, analysis, and information on digital currencies stated in their recent Trade Finance and Supply Chains Report that block-chains are not just an incremental improvement. They are, in fact offering an opportunity to create a new digital backbone for trade finance and supply chain, cutting costs and creating new efficiencies for an $18 trillion industry.

So how can we respond proactively to such potential disruptions?

Steve Jobs made use of the word “intrapreneurship” in a Newsweek magazine article in 1985 stating that “The Macintosh team was what is commonly identified as intrapreneurship – only a number of many years before the term was coined – a group of people going in essence back to the garage, but in a big business”. Similarly, after the Macintosh computer was launched in 1984, Steve Jobs described its development as an “intrapreneurial venture” within Apple – since the machine would compete with the Apple II, previously the company’s core product.

Going back to the garage – levering enterprise innovation

Perhaps the financial services and other key industry sectors in a similar challenging situation could take advantage of the intrapreneurship concept by focusing on the development of a “back to the garage” corporate intrapreneurs, within an enterprise culture which has already being taken up by the early adopter enterprises.

These organizations are applying intrapreneurship as a strategic and systemic lever to engage, enroll and empower people to affect the deep changes and business transformations required for 21st-century growth, competitiveness and success.

What is intrepreneurship?

Coined by Gifford Pinchot III in the late 1970s, he described intrapreneurs as “dreamers who do. Those who take hands-on responsibility for creating innovation of any kind, within a business.”
Intrapreneurship is the act of behaving like an entrepreneur in order to evolve ideas into new ventures that have an impact for the organization.
Today the term intrapreneurship encompasses two main concepts: first, “corporate venturing”, which usually describes the search for spin-off opportunities; and second, the fostering of an entrepreneurial culture in large organizations.

Who is an intrapreneur?

An intrapreneur is an employee of an established (often large organization) with an entrepreneurial spirit and innovation skill set who works within the company to discover, design and deliver innovative products and services.

A corporate intrapreneur is someone who is courageous, compassionate, connected and creative, who dares to be boldly different, think and act differently within an organization, to make the difference they want to make in the world in ways that people value and cherish.

A Safe Space to Create

There have always been ambitious and courageous go-getters in companies who try to rock the boat and disrupt the status quo with new and creative ideas. In the past, from my own experience, the majority of enterprise cultures I have been involved with have either driven them out as “misfits” or they have self-selected out of the organization as a “misfit.”

However, with the rise of Gen Y and the so-called, “millennials” there has not been such a desire for employees to take ownership of their own corner of a company, to learn by playing, doing (and failing) and to really make an impact and a bigger difference to the world.

“The rise of the intrapreneur is driven in part by a restless, younger workforce eager to make a real impact with their careers”.

The recent Deloitte 2014 Millennial Survey states that;

 “Organizations must foster innovative thinking. Millennials want to work for organizations that support innovation. In fact, 78 percent of Millennials are influenced by how innovative a company is when deciding if they want to work there, but most say their current employer does not greatly encourage them to think creatively.  They believe the biggest barriers to innovation are management attitude (63 percent), operational structures and procedures (61 percent), and employee skills, attitudes, and (lack of) diversity (39 percent)”.

This isn’t employees just trying to do better at their existing jobs or move up the ladder; this is them wanting to create something new, by integrating innovation with lean start-up methodologies, something that doesn’t currently exist. In other words, they want to create their own unique way of working and hang out “in the corporate garage!”

Key first 3 Steps to developing an intrapreneurial enterprise culture

From our own learning experiences (and failures) at ImagineNation™ in engaging and enabling clients to develop corporate intrapreneurs, within an intraprenurial enterprise culture, we have identified 3 key steps, as the “non-negotiables” that will help facilitate ultimate success;

  1. Determine enterprise readiness
  • What is the history of innovation in the organization, how has it been led and implemented, what were the failures and successes, and what are the key messages people know about and are concerned about?
  • How is this impacting on people’s beliefs, motivation, mindsets and behaviors around innovation?
  • What are the key operating cultural norms and patterns that will either support or inhibit innovation through intrapreneurship?
  • How can we increase the enterprise strengths and opportunities into possibilities and a vision for innovation, whilst acknowledging and reducing the potential barriers and inhibitors?
  1. Build top team alignment and engagement
  • Engage and enroll the top team, even at board level, to agree on the definition of innovation in their specific enterprise context, as well as their vision and BHAG for innovation.
  • Identify and potentially resolve the top teams’ concerns, survival and learning anxieties to create the “safe space” and psychological safety for taking the risks and experiencing the personal and organizational discomfort, dissonance and conflicts that change through innovation involves.
  • Enable and equip the top team to role model enacting and embodying the desired core mindsets and behaviors that will support and lead the achievement of the vision and BHAG for innovation.
  1. Create a safe and creative, and collaborative learning environment
  • Make it safe for people to be provocative and challenge the status quo, to actively “rock the boat” in ways that reveal, disrupt, question and dispute the operating beliefs, patterns, and processes that have converged over time.
  • Create the “safe space” for people to be intrinsically motivated and to operate autonomously (in the garage), to discern and assimilate the best of their knowledge, to achieve skills mastery and to share their knowledge, skills, and experiences with one another.
  • Encourage people to “get out of the office” and pay deep attention to cultural patterns, emerging trends, markets, to empathize with customer needs, wants, problems and ideas to develop creative ideas that result in innovative hypothetical solutions that can be tested, iterated, validated and pivoted into new minimal viable products and services.
  • Support people to keep their “skin in the game” and to really try to do things differently, to take the necessary smart risks, experience and learn from the imperfections, mistakes, and failures that make the innovation happen.

Finally, when people have the ‘chance to’ and are inspired to ‘want to’ explore distant horizons and stretch their boundaries, they can then be taught ‘how to’ do it.

Which is about developing corporate intrapreneurs, who are passionately purposeful, intrapreneurial traits, the growth, and innovation mindsets and behaviors, and the generative skills and daily practices of a successful life “in the garage” intrapreneurial leaders, who make innovation a habit.

At ImagineNation™ we provide innovation coaching, education and culture consulting to help businesses achieve their innovation goals. Because we have done most of the learning and actioning of new hybrid mindsets, behaviours, and skill-sets already, we can help your businesses also do this by opening people up to their innovation potential.

Contact us now at janet@imaginenation.com.au to find out how we can partner with you to learn, adapt and grow your business in the digital age.