Tag Archives: corporate entrepreneurs

The one with recognition at last

I’ve never seen myself as particularly forward thinking. I can generally see what’s going on around me and make sense of it but in terms of the larger changes and trends I’ve never really had that much game.

The one exception to this was with intrapreneurs. Actually when I first understood the concept of intrapreneurship I didn’t know there was a word to describe it. I could just recognise traits and behaviour in others and knew they were operating differently to the norm.

When I first started trying to research intraprenuership a few years ago the challenge I faced (and the reason this blog started) was in finding people who considered themselves intrapreneurs. In my quest I happened upon the remains of Jimmy Hoffa, the lost city of Atlantis and the secret formula for Frosties – all of which were easier to find than people who considered themselves intrapreneurs*

What I found interesting at that time was it was easier to find people who knew people they considered intrapreneurs and it was the recognition and suggestion of others that allowed the individual to even entertain the thought. Even then they were often resistant to the idea that they were operating differently. They often ascribed it to ‘just a project I was given’ or ‘some luck I had in getting it done’. The term is still not widely used or understood, often, it appears to me being used as a derivation of entrepreneur for those who aren’t brave enough to go it alone.

It was therefore with surpise and a smile on my face that I read a post on Sir Richard Branson’s entrepeneurship blog about an awards programme he’s supporting along with Ashoka, an organisation that supports social entrepreneurship and who run the ‘league of intrapreneurs’. You can find more from reading the Virgin blog I read here.

The awards scheme recognised achievement in social intrapreneurship in such large corporates as GSK and Shell and as Branson put it, “Social intrapreneurs are demonstrating to the world how business can be a force for good”. Amen to that!

I love the fact that the opportunity that intrapreneurs offer to organisations is starting to gain more recognition (and let’s face it with Branson attached it’ll get publicity) and that large corporates are seeing these people not as rogues and mavericks but as people who can operate differently to the benefit of the organisation. It’s also great that Virgin are using the fascination in Sir Richard’s entrepeneurial achievements as a way to grow the understanding of intrapreneurship – Bravo!

*I did not actually find any of these things

P.S. Thanks to Rob Harrison for directing me to the blog post

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The one for those who manage mavericks

Well not strictly mavericks – what I really mean is intrapreneurs. Those who operate as entrepreneurs but within organisations. If you’ve been reading this blog from the start you’ll know the whole purpose behind writing it was to find some individuals who may be described as intrapreneurs and get in contact with them for interviews. Now having finished the whole research process it seemed appropriate to share at least some of what I found.

One of the my research interests was discovering the impact of the line manager on the individual intrapreneur. What I found was broadly there were three modes of behaviour that supported intrapreneurial behaviour. The list of behaviours that DIDN’T support intrapreneurs was SO long that it would be a whole project in itself but they can be summarised as ‘being a risk adverse, arse covering scaredy cat’ although I wouldn’t have submitted that to uni!!

So the three types are:

1. Sponsor

Provide organisational support (as opposed to personal support). Are usually a very senior manager. Help get hold of resources or keep those you’ve already got. Protect you from the cogs of the machine (governance). Manage senior stakeholders and calm them down when they get to flapping. Hold back the tide of resistance until you can get some success

2. Mentor

Provide personal support. Help the individual cope with the ups and downs of an initiative especially for those who are used to having results to keep themselves calm. Encouragements – lots of it. Help the individual make sense of the nonsense going on in their heads. Sometimes just sit and listen (and sooth with wine)

3. Licensor

Combine many of the things in both 1 and 2 but significantly have been involved in the genesis of the idea/concept/product/initiative so are likely to be more comfortable doing some of the hand holding/tide holding mentioned above.

So there it is – about 1200 words of academese in 3 short paragraphs and I’ll spare you from the rest for now at least. However I will leave you with something to think about – if you are leading people who are operating outside of ‘normal’ corporate operations with the intent of improving the organisation (i.e. mavericks as opposed to rogues who’s intent is less clear) then think about which if any of these roles you play…

Oh and for anyone interested this is a word cloud of my project just in case you’re having trouble sleeping at any time!

Project Wordle


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The one with a game changer on entrepreneurs

There are some very smart people around….and thanks to the joy of the internet (specifically YouTube and Twitter in this case) we get quick and easy access to their thinking. Not that trawling through indexes in a reference library isn’t fun of course, but it’s a lot more time consuming!

The specific smart people I am referring to in this post are Marc Ventresca and Grant McCracken . The first is on staff at Said Business School in Oxford and the second is on staff at MIT as well as writing books & blogs.

Ventresca ran a session at the recent TEDx in Oxford, the subject of which was Entrepreneurs and it was through McCracken’s blog on HBR that I came to see this session on YouTube. For those who want more than my perceptions, it’s linked here.

The beauty of a TED talk is they are punchy. 20 minutes maximum and given the diversity of the audience rarely rely on a great deal of in-depth knowledge of the specific area. Ventresca opens his by asking people to reflect on the word entrepreneur and what it has come to mean. He goes on to give what has evolved into the mainstream perception of entrepreneurs, the way it has been ‘captured’ – those who take big risk for big reward, those who are endlessly persistent, those who do things no one else will do and those who are free from the bounds of convention.

Given this is TED the audience was likely littered with real entrepreneurs and he makes the point that often these people are not particularly interested in risk but are in fact passionate and persistent and achieve things in the worlds they are already in. Stop there for a moment…

This is where I got really excited (sad I know) because actually to me what he was describing was not just entrepreneurs but more importantly to me, given the context of my research and reading, he was describing corporate entrepreneurs. Not the maverick celebrity special few, but a definition and understanding that could apply to people within organisations.

The phrase he used that was particularly resonant was, “start with what they have at hand” to “turn what they have in hand to something more” but most resonantly for the consideration of corporate entrepreneurs “they do something in the world they’re in”.

The phrase he used is “System Builder” and he uses various examples to illustrate this but he summarises a system builder with these 3 comments:

  • They understand the elements around them
  • They combine those elements to generate new value
  • They do this by taking heterogeneous elements and assembling them

It’s in these 3 things that I started to think about the differences between corporate entrepreneurs and other successful business managers. I would imagine every successful manager understands the elements around them but the two things that maybe distinguish entrepreneurs is firstly the ability (or creativity in its broadest sense) to combine them but also the ability to recognise the potential in the difference between the (heterogeneous) elements.

Also, given how hard people seem to find it to recognise or admit they are entrepreneurial, without being in a start up or small business situation, this definition could be very powerful in helping increase the identification of relevant individuals within organisations, the growth of venturing within businesses and a return to economic prosperity…but I may be taking this a little far!

I do like smart people….a lot. Now I’m going back to reading more of them

N.B. Any errors in the transcription from the YouTube clip are mine and apologies in advance to Dr Ventresca if I’ve taken his words in vain!!



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The one where it’s about courage

I read a piece in the Washington Post yesterday which talked about outgoing US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates and a speech he made to the US Naval Academy graduation ceremony at Annapolis, Maryland. If you want to read a larger excerpt then it’s here but the part that really caught my attention was this:

“A further quality of leadership is courage: not just the physical courage of the seas, of the skies and of the trenches, but moral courage. The courage to chart a new course, the courage to do what is right and not just what is popular, the courage to stand alone, the courage to act, the courage as a military officer to “speak truth to power.”

In most academic curricula today, and in most business, government and military training programs, there is great emphasis on team-building, on working together, on building consensus, on group dynamics. You have learned a lot about that. But, for everyone who would become a leader, the time will inevitably come when you must stand alone. When alone you must say, “This is wrong” or “I disagree with all of you and, because I have the responsibility, this is what we will do.” Don’t kid yourself — that takes real courage”

When someone says the word courage to me I always think of what you could term “big match” courage, most typified by a military style courage, the stuff that wins Victoria Crosses or Military Medals – the taking of hills, the rescuing of comrades under fire but if you consider courage in other forms you could cite numerous examples: Rosa Parks keeping her seat, Nelson Mandela forgiving the prison guards, Rosalind Franklin defying gender segregation to make scientific history, and the list could go on [Read @ThinkingFox’s blog from this morning for more great examples]

However, the point that Gates so eloquently makes and that which is probably most relevant in an organisational context is being able to ‘speak truth to power’ in other words, how not to be a ‘yes man’. But (and there has to be a but) more pertinently in an organisational context, how to avoid being a yes person WITHOUT being on the receiving end of a P45 or sent to the proverbial “Russian Front”

Harvard Business Review ran a piece in 2007 entitled “Courage as a Skill” and in it Kathleen Reardon talks about how this form of moral courage isn’t actually what is effective in organisations. She goes on to define a concept called the “courage calculation” or more simply put the intelligent and planned taking of calculated risk. Her calculation involves considering goals, determining importance, understanding the power dynamics and influencing them in your favour, judging the risk vs. reward (or as my boss used to term it “is it a hill to die on?”), timing (not just the secret of comedy) and understanding your plan B (check canopy etc)

From personal experience, of taking risks and having read this article and discussed it with various groups I’ve worked with in recent years, it’s not an easy thing, even with all the prep in the world. All the thinking in the world won’t control your pulse, the cold sweat and the dryness of mouth you could well experience in having one of these conversations but the feeling afterwards? Amazing! Tall buildings? Single Bounds? CHECK

I am now further along the process of interviewing people from my Masters dissertation (you remember, the whole reason for setting this blog up) and what’s interesting in considering corporate entrepreneurs is how consistent risk taking seems to be as a trait (so far). What’s also interesting and maybe more defining is how often the risk isn’t this thought through calculated form of risk but actually more needs driven almost a personal imperative. It seems that for some of them the thought of not telling truth to power and getting their idea/plan/opinion/strategy out there is far scarier and more damaging than the outcomes that would cause most of us to back away…

Whichever form of courage you see (and you will see it in everyday life) or have the most respect for, there is a line from Robert Frost that always seems to run through my head when these situations arise either for me or around me in organisational life and it seems as good as place as any to close:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less travelled by,

and that has made all the difference”


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