While an intrapreneur is necessarily a highly productive employee, not every highly productive employee is an intrapreneur.
The second step in the diagram below represents the most differentiable attribute of an intrapreneur: initiative.
Innovators are a naturally curious bunch. They take the initiative to wander outside of their sphere of expertise. They do not need a manager to provide a map because they are guided by technologies and problems about which they care passionately.
The diagram below depicts the two areas of initiative on which an intrapreneur typically focuses. The intrapreneur must take initiative in both areas; anything less decreases the chance for effective innovation.
The first (and most important) area of initiative is the entrance into the customer sphere. It’s important to be aware of the two classes of customer: external and internal.
In my corporation (EMC), external customers are the businesses or consumers that purchase the innovative, new high-tech products that are being built.
Internal customers are the individuals and teams that build, test, sell, and support these high-tech products.
Regardless of whether the customer is internal or external, the intrapreneur must leave the comfort of his or her sphere of expertise and listen closely to customer requirements and problem statements.
Requirements gathering is a normal and mandatory part of any high-tech product development cycle. What is different about the intrapreneurial approach? The primary difference is that the intrapreneur is driven by personal interest. He or she is asking solely because of personal curiosity, or because of a passion for a particular field.
The second area of initiative is the continual drive to learn new technologies, especially those that are in some way adjacent to the intrapreneur’s sphere of expertise. These self-guided investigations are most effective if they are driven by the exposure to customer problems and requirements. It is possible to explore new technologies outside of the context of customer requirements; this is called blue sky innovation. Customer requirements will often surface as the intrapreneur practices the third habit: collaboration.
Expertise, customer exposure, and adjacent technology are the holy trinity of intrapreneurial innovation. This innovation approach is highly effective at large corporations and is also referred to as Venn Diagram innovation.
When productivity and initiative are combined with the next step (collaboration), ideas are produced. More to come on this topic in a future blog post.
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Steve Todd is Director at EMC Innovation Network, and a high-tech inventor and book author “Innovate With Global Influence“. An EMC Intrapreneur with over 180 patent applications and billions in product revenue, he writes about innovation on his personal blog, the Information Playground. Twitter: @SteveTodd