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Creative Disruption: Innovation through Intrapreneurship


Businesses are like sharks: if they stop moving they die.

In a traditional team, everyone knows their job and what’s expected of them. This is certainly true of the pit crew of a Formula 1 car team, for example. However, for the team charged with innovating and eliciting change in a fast moving and ambiguous environment, clarity of this order can be counter-productive.

Consider how differently that same F1 team’s R&D team might operate. Rather than have team members focus on personal roles and responsibilities, the innovative team needs to take a broader, collective view. They share and seek responsibilities, looking for new challenges and opportunities.

The team must be driven by a shared sense of strategic purpose and be empowered to make decisions that will stretch and challenge the organisation - as well as themselves.

"When all think alike, then no one is thinking." – Walter Lippman

Companies that don’t see a need to challenge themselves, once they are mature businesses, can potentially impact their brand in negative ways. Sometimes they see the need once the decline in revenue has begun, or when customers start to leave, but that is often too late. The innovation story-line needs to start as companies are in growth mode and have not yet matured.

Applied appropriately, there are a plethora of benefits ascribed to successful innovation: higher profit margins, reinvigorated products or services, a striking re-positioning of your brand, reinforcing long term relationships, and adding value for the customer.

At Kaplan, our Professional Leadership & Development team have compiled a list of innovations to inspire you: Download our innovations sheet

Intrapreneurs: The Facilitators of Innovation

For those who aren’t acquainted with the term ‘Intrapreneurs’, Global Director of Kaplan’s Leadership and Professional Development, Andy Perkins, offers an explanation: “Intrapreneurs are people within a large corporation who take direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable new business unit through assertive risk-taking and innovation.

“Intrapreneurs are trusted within the business. They are what George Akerloff calls insiders, people who get it, who are intellectually, professionally, and emotionally engaged with the project. For us, this is the importance of a professional identity – a clear sense of personal and collective responsibility for the project.

“They are not outlaws... they are pioneers. Intrapreneurs, like entrepreneurs, have to be temperamentally optimistic.

Intrapreneurship can be regarded as the practice of innovation, at a company:  “The means by which large, mature corporates can develop and harness the commercial energy that will grow the business in a constantly changing and fiercely competitive environment.”

A Case Study

At Kaplan, we designed and delivered an innovation program at a global bank, as well as other financial services companies, in various iterations tailored for their specific organisation.

The brief was always similarly themed: '”We are challenged to do more with less, to create new value for our proposition, and to do this in an environment of organisational and structural change.”

The LPD approach was to use teams and team leadership to weave through this input on innovative tools and techniques, as well as giving them an understanding of the psychology of change that runs through all of this.

The results in the classroom were always positive - plenty of engagement, lots of 'aha' moments and they left with 'team plans' and individualised action points. The results in the business were harder to assess, but the feedback we collected from participants was often that the business wasn't receptive to doing things differently.

One might then make an assumption that although the external pressures to change may be present, the psychological transitions to utilising a more innovative lens on business strategy, may be slower to follow.

Contributions from Dr Ian Stewart, and Andrew Perkins, part of the Senior Leadership & Personal Development team at Kaplan.

Does your organisation need to create or revive it’s intrapreneurship spirit? Speak to us.

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