How can leaders drive intrapreneurship and speed up innovation within an enterprise?

For that question, and others regarding building an innovation engine within a large organization, we interviewed Jan Kennedy, CEO of the Academy for Corporate Entrepreneurship. With proven, hands-on experiential learning, the Academy for Corporate Entrepreneurship helps organizations engage employees and transform culture. The Academy’s programs help companies build great corporate entrepreneurs from within.

Intrapreneurship Beyond the Hype

When looking at what truly makes a long-lasting, successful corporate entrepreneur, the first key differentiation to make is between people who employ an “execute” mindset, and those with a “search” mindset. 

An execution-oriented person looks for efficiency gains to continually improve their job performance. The search-oriented person is one who is always looking to find the next disruption. They are the ones looking for opportunity and seeing where they can leverage it, says Kennedy. 

Both styles move innovation forward, but a search mindset is one that often requires a continued effort to nurture within a corporate setting.

“Many corporate settings are already optimized for execution-oriented activities,” explains Kennedy. But early innovation requires more of the “search” activities to test, trial, and revise new-to-the-world solutions. “Then these innovations can be handed over to the execution-oriented teams, once market traction has been shown, and the main goal has shifted to scaling.” 

The Founder Institute has also done much research on what makes for the optimal entrepreneur within a corporate setting. “From this vast amount of data, we see three commonalities amongst personality traits,” shares Kennedy.

“First, we see the successful entrepreneur has a high degree of openness and a high level of fluid intelligence.”

While openness and fluid intelligence are important, as is a moderate level of agreeableness, IQ and conscientiousness seem to be irrelevant. 

As far as skills, Kennedy breaks down three main areas seen with the most effective entrepreneurs: 

  1. Ability to manage relationships: establishes effective work relations and is willingly and skillfully able to manage conflicts
  1. Ability to problem-solve: solves problems systematically and is a creative thinker 
  1. Capacity to embrace challenge, growth or change: displays willingness to take the risk to change current comfort zone 

Encouraging an Enterprise-Wide Culture of Entrepreneurship

“We’ve come a long way since the suggestion box,” says Kennedy. “Many companies now appreciate that they can tap into their employees or even partners and the crowd to accumulate new ideas and understand needs to identify opportunities. That helps build a spirit of entrepreneurship and it builds a culture that embraces the search and discovery of new ideas.”

Kennedy argues that innovation leaders now recognize that processes need to be built around the activities of ideation, design thinking, lean startup, prototyping, incubating, and other suitable methods, in order to bring them together and apply the principles together in a meaningful way. “Employees need to know that there is a path they can pursue when they want to develop new ideas.”

Without that kind of a framework, corporations can either stifle or simply lose some of their employees that would have many of the very traits they are likely looking to harness.

Leaders can start by intentionally building capabilities, but ultimately it comes down to having a framework in place so more and more employees really are able to contribute to innovation. “Some organizations like Barclays Bank, Metro Group, Disney and Nike are doing this by collaborating with external startups via accelerator programs.”

But Kennedy says having this approach purely with your own employees is still fairly new. A successful example of this kind of program can be seen with Intuit as well as General Electric. 

With Intuit in particular, the founder, Scott Cook, and CEO, Brad Smith, had the guts to admit they were stagnant when it came to innovation. “They didn’t pretend everything was fine.”

Their reaction? “They invested in innovation capabilities. They invested across the enterprise, especially design and user experience-related disciplines, to help them better understand their customers. Innovation Catalysts were trained and were able to spread capabilities across the organization.”

It’s similar to a movement, in implementation, says Kennedy.

“Often we see that a leader needs to experience it before she can really understand and back it. Allowing, or enabling, people to adopt a ‘search’ mindset rather than their usual ‘execute’ mindset can be quite a big change. A key mistake is just planning and planning—how you are going to tackle this?—and not actually trying and testing out different methods.”

Planning is important for new-to-the-world concepts, but it only takes you so far before requiring validation. Approaches such as lean startup and design thinking or human-centered design, call for validation and iteration.

“If you try to plan how you will innovate, you’ll probably end up getting smacked in the face. As Steve Blank says, ‘No business plan survives its first contact with customers.’”

Start Building Your Army 

Leaders can start by narrowing in on areas of the organization that could benefit from change. If innovation leaders can work towards becoming an ambidextrous organization—one that can focus on existing execution activities but also future, search activities—they can avoid becoming someone else’s breakfast.

“A lot of the talent is already there, but they won’t stay, or the organization won’t attract new talent if the organization does not invest in them—especially the Millennials.” 

Failing to evolve fast enough is part of the problem, and closely tied to this is a loss of connection with customers, and new and prospective customers. “Organizations can become too busy assuming things, and following their own agenda.” But intrapreneurs work to combat these “status quo” mindsets. "Good intrapreneurs remain customer-focused and can drive new revenue streams and growth opportunities at a greater speed.”

With an army of these kind of proactive, forward-thinking innovators, a company can combat any proclivity towards complacency, and can avoid becoming someone’s else’s breakfast.

This is part one of two in a blog interview series with Kennedy.

About Jan Kennedy

Jan Kennedy is founder and CEO of the Academy for Corporate Entrepreneurship. Inspired by the work of the Founder Institute, the world’s largest startup training and entrepreneur launchpad, Kennedy built the company on lean startup methods, with The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and The Lean Entrepreneur by Brant Cooper and Patric Vlaskowitz acting as driving forces behind the organization's development. Kennedy is still a Director at the Founder Institute. Find more information on AfCE's website

Did you know more than 41 percent of innovation leaders say culture and skills hold them back from breakthrough innovation?

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