Build Intrapreneurship To Foster Innovation

By Fatmanur Erdogan, Hürriyet Daily News

“Innovate or die!” We hear that expression every day.  Today, business success depends on how innovative a company is and how quickly it can launch products. However, in difficult times, companies tend to become more conservative, focusing on protecting their assets.

Even when the natural impulse is to become defensive, though, companies need to innovate.  One way to foster that creativity is to encourage intrapreneurship.  Gifford Pinchot, credited with coining the term, defines intrapreneurs as “in-house entrepreneurs,” those “dreamers who … can increase the speed and cost-effectiveness of technology transfer from R&D to the marketplace.”

According to Pinchot, intrapreneurs are not the same as inventors, who create new products.  Intrapreneurs are the ones who take innovations and creatively maneuver them through the company and to the market.  They work in a different style and they don’t always fit comfortably into the organization.  They follow intuition and hard analysis at the same time, and they have the vision and courage to realize their goals.

Encouraging these people is harder at large companies than at startups.  Modern corporations are focused more on increasing the efficiency of tasks, less on fostering innovation.  Rules and procedures bring structure and efficiency, but they also stifle innovation, and thus a company’s ability to compete.

Yet some large, global companies like DuPont and 3M are known for nurturing their entrepreneurial employees.  Can we do the same thing here?  I believe that companies in Turkey need to foster intrapreneurship and integrate it into their systems, because developments in technology are completely changing the way people live and work.  Moreover, intrapreneurs shake up the status quo, and every company needs to be challenged to remain competitive in the marketplace.

The same environments that encourage intrapreneurship can also create a culture of committed employees and foster long-term success. Why lose intrapreneurial types just because they don’t fit into a given structure? Doesn’t creativity flourish with diversity?

For intrapreneurship to flourish, companies need to create a certain kind of environment.

First, intrapreneurs thrive on freedom and shrink from hierarchical, command-and-control environments.  They tend to seek forgiveness rather than ask permission.  Certainly, any organization must have processes and rules.  However, managers must differentiate between rules that guide and enhance performance, and rules that restrict or stifle.

Second, companies need to allow for a degree of failure around new projects.  Entrepreneurs experiment with things in order to understand how to use them to the company’s benefit.  Inevitably, some of those experiments don’t end successfully, and employees need to trust the company is tolerant of these mistakes.

Third, design a hiring process that is more accepting of nonconformity.  If your company tends to hire people with nicely rounded edges who meet its definition of “safe” candidates, it won’t get the risk-taking pioneers who will push boundaries forward.  Instead, look for people who are not compliers, who are not easily satisfied.  Look for people who are not afraid to speak their minds, people who are not afraid to be fired, and even consider hiring people who openly disagree with your company’s practices.

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