In Andrew Corbett’s Harvard Business Review article “The Myth of the Intrapreneur,” he argues that although the Intrapreneur is held up as a driver of innovation who swoops in and saves the day, for effective and real innovation, it “has to be a company-wide endeavor, supported from top to bottom by systems, structures, and a company culture that nurtures transformative ideas and products.” Although I agree that Corbett’s argument is sound, I still believe that the intrapreneurial spirit can be a powerful catalyst and intrapreneurs can be the pathfinders to create that necessary institutionalized support. Someone has to be the first person or part of the first team to do something new.
Even though we are lucky enough to work in an organization that supports employee driven initiatives, as evidenced by MITRE’s independent research and development to program, Team Toolkit had still had to explore and develop non-traditional means of funding and support. We started with advocating for and using our tools on our regular work projects. This allowed us to test individual tools’ applicability, effectiveness, and explanation. Once we decided we wanted to do more, we carved out time outside of our regular work responsibilities. However, we realized that to create something sustainable, we needed funding to make the Innovation Toolkit more than just a passion project.
We created formal proposals for existing sources of funding and we knocked on doors to create new sources of funding. The truth is that we were not successful at the beginning. In fact, we had to do a lot of unfunded work and half funded work to create some early wins so that we could bring those as proof of concept. With a lot of outreach and using our institutional wisdom, we were able to identify some of early adopters and patrons who then became our champions. We needed to do some trailblazing to start something new and step outside our usual line of work.
Corbett’s article makes a great argument for changing an organization’s culture and structure to support innovation to make it sustainable and repeatable. I think the real misconceptions about intrapreneurs is that they are lone catalysts for innovation. Real change requires teams, stakeholders, and champions to work together. Intrapreneurs often have the passion and initiative needed to bring people together and focus resources. In our case, we started our journey with the desire to work collaboratively with others along the way to cultivate the collective wisdom of fellow practitioners and to build community around the Innovation Toolkit. We have always seen this as the key to its sustainability because through the community is how it will continue to evolve and grow to meet the needs of the innovation ecosystem.
So we invite you to tap into that intrapreneurial spirit, in whatever kind of organization you are currently in, and dare to reach out to others to make change and try to do something new.