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 By Ed McLaughlin and Wyn Lydecker

Once your company is a well-oiled machine, how do you foster ingenuity? Stasis does not help us succeed against the new obstacles and challenges of a changing world. So, how do we keep the spark alive that first made us great, while continuing to do what our company now does best? The answer may lie in intrapreneurship.

Last week we wrote about intrapreneurship from the employee’s point of view. Now, we tackle the concept from the management side. While the idea of intrapreneurship programs can seem like a great idea, it can be very hard to make implement. The goal is to get the same kind of disruptively innovative ideas that startups generate to roll out of the corporate fold. The fact is that innovation is hard to implement.

As Steve Blank said in his ESADE Business School Commencement speech, “Every policy and procedure that makes

[successful companies into] efficient execution machines stifles innovation…Their sole purpose is to focus resources on the execution of their business model.” Diverting the stream of resources to power something that may or may not pan out is not efficient, and it grates against all the training we have to make our companies into those well-oiled machines. However, investing in intrapreneurship is different.

Giving talented employees their heads and then backing them with resources of an established corporation can yield wonderful and sometimes unexpected fruit. Many corporations are seeing intrapreneurship as the future of growth and innovation and are taking steps to formalize it as a track for motivated employees. Facebook is a great example with its Creative Labs. As this article, “The Future of Facebook May Not Say ‘Facebook,'” shows, Mark Zuckerberg has systematized intrapreneurship to allow independent development of numerous different apps. His initiative has yielded some promising results. The best of them, according to the author of the article, is Paper, a gesture-intuitive program for interacting with Facebook. Yet, Paper doesn’t bear either the name or iconic color branding of the original Facebook. Maybe it will be reintegrated into the mobile experience of Facebook, or maybe it will just go on to live an independent life as an app. Either way, it has created a terrific new product for the Facebook company.

Other companies have longstanding programs to encourage employee ideas to take flight. 3M has a “bootlegging” program, whereby employees are encouraged to spend 15% of their time on whatever project ideas occur to them. From that program, the world got Post-It Notes (Great Intrepreneurs in Business History, CBS News). Gmail and AdSense both came from Google’s (now reportedly  more difficult to implement) “20% Time” program, which had encouraged all Googlers to spend one day a week on their own projects.

Whether you, as a corporation innovation executive, have the budget for a fully-funded  R&D department or not, you can encourage intrapreneurship. You can – and need to – start by creating a culture that’s open to new ideas. Even limited resources can go far, if the people with ideas feel supported in pursuing their realization.

Starting a formal intrapreneurship program can feed your future.

Ed McLaughlin is currently co-writing the book “The Purpose Is Profit: Secrets of a Successful Entrepreneur from Startup to Exit” with Wyn Lydecker and Paul McLaughlin.


Copyright © 2014 by Ed McLaughlin All rights reserved.