blank canvas
Photo by Laura @
Pixel Heart Photography

One of the proven methods of extracting innovation from an otherwise stale organization has been to embark upon “skunkworks” projects. These are projects that are cobbled together by passionate instigators within an organization who see an opportunity to build upon or extend something they have happened across in their day-to-day work.

Gifford Pinchot has termed these people “intrapreneurs”.

Pinchot calls intrapreneurs “the dreamers who do”. They are the people within your organization who make things happen. They take an idea, pull together a team and then deliver the outcome … and when it comes to innovation within your business, you can’t live without them. Why?

The intrapreneur is unusually dedicated. When Texas Instruments analyzed 50 of their successful and unsuccessful product launches, they realized that the failures occurred when a “zealous volunteer champion” was not involved. It was these volunteers, the intrapreneurs, who would persist despite the roadblocks and issues – recruiting others as needed, lobbying for support and refusing to let an idea whither on the vine.

The innovation company, 3M, had the idea for post-it notes kicking around the business for almost thirty years before it was transformed into an “overnight success”. It wasn’t until the right combination of intrapreneurs came together that this office-staple gained traction in the marketplace.

There are many examples of the need for intrapreneurs. But the question remains a personal one – what are YOU doing as a leader to foster intrpreneurial spirit? Are you sponsoring innovative projects? Are you performing the role of “climate maker” – creating what Pinchot calls a widely shared belief in innovation across your enterprise? If not, why not?

It is precisely when the business environment slows that leaders are needed. And perhaps, more importantly, it is in these times when opportunities present themselves unexpectedly. Do you have the teams and resources capable of exploiting these opportunities? Look closely at your village … your intrapreneurs may be closer than you think.

Nina Nets It Out: In tough times, businesses have a tendency to “batten down the hatches”. However, while your competitors are putting their heads down, they may be missing the opportunities that change facilitates. The intrapreneurs in your organization can provide you with a distinct competitive advantage – tap their expertise, passion and commitment to outcomes.