To move beyond innovation theater, intrapreneurs have to become keenly interested in creating value for the companies they work for. This should lead them down a path of figuring out what is true versus myth when it comes to innovation. Authentic intrapreneurs are keenly interested in what works. They are not interested in doing innovation just for show. Their authenticity leads them to take the time to really understand what they are trying to build as a practice for their company. By getting clarity on what a good innovation practice looks like, they are then able to decide how they can bring this to life within our organizations.
Explore — Exploit
The first principle to embrace is that there is a difference between exploiting current business models and exploring new opportunities. For intrapreneurs, this distinction matters because it lays bare what their job is. While the main business improves and executes on the currently successful business models, the role of intrapreneurs is to explore and search for new value propositions and business models.
Please note that I did not say make cool new products or come up with great new ideas. I did not even mention technology or R&D. While all these things may be an important part of the mix, they are not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to create value. I have worked with companies where the leaders are obsessed with following the latest technology trends. This is not a bad thing to do. But if that is all we do, we run the risk of creating new products and technologies that create no value for our customers or our company.
Authentic intrapreneurs look beyond technology. In fact the Nintendo Wii proved that, even with inferior technology, an innovation can succeed when the team is focused on value propositions that resonate with customers and business models that work. This is what we are searching for as intrapreneurs. As such, our work, tools and methods must be deliberately chosen to support this pursuit. Everything else is a waste of valuable time and resources.
What To Look For
The second principle to embrace is that searching is different from executing because it is a nonlinear process. It is two steps forward, one step back and another two steps sideways. It is a lot like solving a puzzle with jumbled up pieces, and no picture to help you! This is why roadmaps and business plans are not very helpful. Instead, we have to make explicit our assumptions and then systematically test them. While that process can be overwhelming in terms of details, what we do know from experience is that profitable business models have four key elements or big puzzle pieces that must be solved for:
- Desirability: Making sure that we are making products that customers want and delivering real value.
- Feasibility: Making sure that we have the capabilities in place to create and deliver value to customers.
- Viability: Making sure that the costs of creating and delivering value to customers are less than customers are willing to pay.
- Adaptability: Making sure that our business model is adaptive to the business environment and that the timing for launching our products into the market is correct, so we can achieve scale.
These are the major pieces of the puzzle we have to resolve in order to find profitable business models. If you focus on these four elements, you increase the likelihood that you will find something of value. The authentic intrapreneur avoids going down pointless rabbit holes, just to appear innovative. Innovation requires that you pay attention to the value proposition, business model and business environment.
The Right Organization
The final question for intrapreneurs concerns what sort of organization we need to have in place to support innovation? This is a key issue to consider because we want innovation to become a part of our company’s structures and processes. The difference between exploration and exploitation requires that we drive a different management culture within our company. Otherwise innovation is always at the margins, fighting for the right to exist.
Authentic intrapreneurs are not interested in one-off successes. They want to be part of transforming their company to become a world-class innovation engine. They work with leaders to create a clear innovation strategy that defines where to play. They work to create alignment with all key functions within the company (e.g. finance, legal and HR). They also work with leaders to make sure they are using the right tools to make investment decisions. Finally, they make sure that their teams are using the right tools and methods for innovation.
As you can see, to be an authentic intrapreneur means taking the best tools for innovation and having them institutionalised as best practice within our companies. Talk about trying to swim upstream! I still don’t understand why anyone would want such a job. But if you do find yourself in that position, your best route to success is to be as authentic as you can be.