An astronaut, a miner, a daredevil & a navigator…

January 31, 2014

…walk into a big Corporation. It’s the corporate version of the New Year’s Resolution — only this “battle of the bulge” is a quest to become a nimble entrepreneurial organization, one that’s better able to quickly respond to change and break new ground. The scenario plays out something like this: Massive global corporation, long respected as a market leader, feels the threat of “disruptive” new interlopers encroaching into their space. Corporation decides it needs fresh thinking and less rigidity so it decides to spin off a subsidiary that can behave like a startup and yield the kind of magic that seems to only occur in open, wall-less office suites teeming with casually dressed people who don’t have defined job titles.

We’ve seen these kinds of spin-offs recently at IBM and with Coca-Cola’s incubator efforts. Other companies have taken a less dramatic approach, declaring R&D as the entrepreneurial side of the house while the rest of the organization plods along as it always has. But these “solutions” (which often fail) really only cover up the symptoms, and don’t get to the heart of why large corporate organizations can’t seem to cultivate a holistic “intrapreneurial” spirit.

The problem is that companies traditionally behave in a manner that’s counter to how entrepreneurs view the world. Many of the key attributes that have made game-changers like Facebook highly successful are characteristics that companies shy away from — risk-taking and speed in particular. Like large corporations, entrepreneurs are highly focused on the trinity of Reward, Results and Growth, but there are some critical personality traits that get them there. In other words, to develop “intrapreneurship,” companies need to have more of the following on board throughout the organization — not just in R&D:

  • Astronauts: The visionaries. Folks who are able to see what others can’t discern — including something that may not yet exist.
  • Miners: The people with unrelenting passion. Miners sense untapped potential and are driven to pursue and explore until they isolate these new opportunities and bring them to the surface.
  • Daredevils: Big Corporations may fear them, but daredevils are the ones who are skilled at negotiating the curves at the proper rate of speed. Preparation and control is part of their thought process.
  • Navigators: These are people who navigate frontiers that haven’t yet been claimed. Some might call them risk takers — but they’re really just innovating where others haven’t been.

I talk in greater detail about these entrepreneurial attributes in my book, AdVenture, but the lesson for large corporations is to stop thinking in terms of departments, job titles and organizational structure, and examine the journey itself. Develop an aspirational vision and mission and go after it with the company’s best resources, not just extra people you may have sitting around.