It’s an exciting time to be an entrepreneur, intrapreneur and innovator. New technologies and new ways of thinking are creating opportunities for industries to leverage existing strengths, delivering significant improvements in operations. Innovation is the process of turning new ideas into value, in the form of new products, services, or ways of doing things. Innovation is a deceptively complex activity that goes beyond creativity and invention to include the practical steps necessary for adoption. New innovations tend to build on earlier versions and, in turn, lay a foundation for others to be built on top of them. It is now widely accepted that innovation fuels the majority of the world’s longterm productivity and economic growth – and that innovative firms significantly outperform noninnovators, in terms of both revenue and employment growth.
Queensland has a strong community of entrepreneurs and that innovation is encouraged and championed by the Queensland Government. As recently appointed Queensland Chief Entrepreneur, I am fortunate to work with so many diverse businesses, entrepreneurs, startups, scale-ups and innovators from around the state. It’s my role to champion the already dedicated innovators and start-ups, to mentor those who are starting out or scaling up and to guide Queensland entrepreneurs in thinking and transacting globally.
Within contemporary society, entrepreneurship is feted as a pathway to self-efficacy, independence and innovation, whilst also creating employment and generating wealth. Further, it is presumed to be an open site of opportunity as there are no barriers to entry. In my experience, entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are very similar: what connects us is that we are all innovators! Whether you are innovating from within an organisation (as an intrapreneur) or by yourself in your own business (an entrepreneur), the important element is the ability to look at what’s happening, to find, analyse and capitalise on opportunities and challenges you are presented with, alongside a desire to solve the problems you see to create a better
Typically, large corporations are very slow, lack creativity, and are excessively process-driven. Oftentimes, they are much too focused on exploiting existing opportunities, which diminishes their ability to explore new ones. What’s really exciting is a paradigm shift in understanding value creation; at the moment bigger organizations and companies, governments, universities are not just understanding the value of innovation but they are taking steps to embed and champion innovation and design thinking within their organizations. It’s a big culture change. And the bigger the organization, the slower the culture is to change, but it is happening.
The Queensland Government is committed to encouraging innovation from within the public service. Initiatives such as the Innovation Champions Network – a whole-of-government network of close to 250 public servants, is instrumental in providing a platform for intrapreneurs, or perhaps “Govpreneurs”, to connect, share ideas, learn about new ways of doing things and finding opportunities for collaboration. The Champions come from all government agencies, sectors and backgrounds and together have created a diverse network which helps Government to identify areas for improvement, test ideas and take action to operationalise those ideas from within the public service.
For some people, innovating from within an organisation feels right. Not everyone is prepared to take the risks associated with being an entrepreneur – financially, emotionally and timewise – and so innovating from within a bigger organization suits them in that they are being creative and innovative, but they’re not fully exposed to the risks. With unencumbered financial risk, some people can actually be more creative. However, for some, having a hierarchical structure above them might limit their creativity and innovation. Systems and corporate executives are mostly focused on defending and expanding existing businesses, rather than starting new ones. Another problem is the opportunity cost of investment. Innovation is never a sure thing, and uncertainty can feel even greater when companies are innovating to break into underdeveloped markets. Other investment opportunities may look more attractive. Others still might want the platform and security of a big organisation to test new ideas – there are many resources that big organizations offer, and which are often difficult to establish when you are starting out by yourself with just an idea, vision and aspirational desire.
Generationally, I think younger people in the workforce – millennials and GenZ – both digital natives, have arrived with a new optimism, a desire for honesty and integrity, and a sense of shared destiny that transcends borders. They cultivate a mindset of change and innovation. Numerous reports talk about “a sense of purpose” as key to retaining these generations in the workplace. So in some cases it may actually be in the best interests of organizations to encourage people within their ranks to innovate both as a retention policy and also a way of drawing on creativity and new thinking. The World Economic Forum released a report in 2016 that says those who innovate within organizations actually tend to create more jobs than those who start their own business.
There is a surging trend globally, where businesses are considering sustainability, environment and climate. A nexus where businesses meets sustainable development, there is a new kind of hero: the social intrapreneur. A social intrapreneur is an entrepreneurial employee who develops a profitable new product, service, or business model that creates value for society and their appointed company. Social intrapreneurs help their employers meet sustainability commitments and create value for customers and communities in ways that are built to last. Traditional business models are under pressure from disruptive technologies, low growth in established markets, and challenges in developing and emerging markets, and some companies see social intrapreneurs as one way to stay competitive.
To those out there, working in organizations who want to be innovators, my advice is to take calculated risks, to ask questions, to offer ideas and to keep pushing them until they are taken up. And if the organization or company or hierarchy doesn’t gel with that idea, then look at your idea and ask yourself: does it fit with this company? If the answer is no, and the idea is good, then perhaps you can find a way of bringing the idea to fruition by yourself as an entrepreneur. One of the key attributes of being an entrepreneur is to believe in yourself, your idea and do what it takes to realise your idea.
To leaders and decision makers in companies and organizations who want to nurture intrapreneurs, I give this advice: promote and reward innovation, encourage ideas and difference. Great ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. If you have a flexible structure in your organisation that encourages ideas, no matter where they are from, then innovation will happen. It’s great to give direction, to provide scope, resources and to give a nudge, but then sit back, let the ideas flow and enjoy the results.
For me, innovation is key and is an important part of the equation. Whether it comes from within or from an external person, if an idea is good, if it is viable and if it works and helps solve a problem – then the idea and the people behind it should be nurtured and encouraged. There are opportunities everywhere. Having an entrepreneurial, intrapreneurial innovative mindset will mean you are always on the lookout for more opportunities. That’s the key to success and a rewarding career.
Leanne is opening the 2020 Australian Intrapreneurs Summit on the 19th of March at the Brisbane Convention Centre.