We Need More Focus on Intrapreneurship Not Less

Involved in Global Entrepreneurship Week at many levels – contributed to New Zealand’s  interest in promoting intrapreneurship – posted following comments today:

We Need More Focus on Intrapreneurship Not Less

Very important topic and should be supported. Glad to contribute.

We see changing technologies, market shifts, new competition and a changing regulatory situation challenging major players in all sectors. The ability to understand and effectively respond to these changes is how I define intrapreneurship. I frequently use 3M, GM and Google when discussing intrapreneurship- all provide insight.

Most know 3M invented innovative products for notes, waterproofing and adhesives, and some were developed ‘by accident.”

Was these pure luck or serendipity? It sure looks like 3M’s success was random and unplanned, and many might think so. Look a bit deeper, however, and you get a different perspective and learn a lesson or two.

At 3M, researchers are expected and encouraged to push the envelope, make
mistakes, and pursue new opportunities. 3M management reinforces this by
mandating that all researchers spend at least 15 percent of their time pursuing ideas that have nothing to do with their normal tasks—pushing the envelope, looking beyond mistakes to take the time to understand, research, dig deeper—all consistent with 3M’s innovation management leadership position. And 3M’s commitment to innovation is reinforced in the company’s mission statement: “To solve unsolved problems innovatively.” Sounds boring to some, but make no mistake- mission statements drive companies.

Further reinforcing this commitment is 3M’s impressive $1.4 billion R&D budget in 2008, about 4 percent of net sales revenue. But these emerging new technologies create disruption, and the need for new business processes, retooling and efficiently managing production, marketing, logistics with major business segments changing every several years. And 3M does it well, an example of effective “tops down” intrapreneurship and change management skills.

Now look at Google. Google, founded in 1998, started as a basic search engine,
ramped up sales to about $17 billion in 2007, and achieved a market cap of about $220 billion in November 2007. Note while Google looks like a high growth entrepreneurial venture which it obviously was, Google had
to acquire the same ‘intrapreneurship’ skills needed to grow,i.e., change
management, adapting business processes, focused R&D/product development, skillful competitive analysis/strategy development and so on. No small task for a “startup” like Google but they did it well

Finally look at GM. Started in 1908, a ‘traditional’ company, a “flagship” automobile brand from 1931 to 2007, and valued at less than $20 billion in late 2007, less than 10 percent of Google. Even after a $50 billion government bailout in 2009, today General Motor’s market cap is only about $51 billion, about 29 percent of Google’s $173 billion.

You can argue I selected a dramatic example here, maybe argue that Google “was in the right place at the right time,” at the cusp of the Internet revolution, while GM is stuck in a mature business, auto manufacturing, with nowhere to go but fight for market share in a tough, competitive global market. I consider this ‘traditional thinking’ that really doesn’t work well with markets and technologies morphing, emerging global players, and intense competition from nontraditional players.

Remember the minicomputer market, with players like WANG, DEC and others who missed the PC market shift, failing to acquire ‘intrapreneurship’ skills or “think entrepreneurially,” a term I defined in my recent book.

Bottom line – intrapreneurship is a critically important management tool that should widely promoted if major players are to effectively respond to todays ‘entrepreneurial age tsunami’ now impacting all market sectors.

Paul B. Silverman

Author: Worm on a Chopstick : Understanding Today’s Entrepreneurial Age: Directions, Strategies, Management Perspectives http://paulbsilverman.com/books/

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