Dirty Martini Intrapreneurship

One  of the portals I use to stay abreast of innovation is called Alltop. It is organized by author and an author by the name of Gregg Fraley caught my attention last week. Gregg had written an article entitled, “Do You Want Innovation or a Dirty Martini.” Rather than describe the whole article for you (or violate his copyright), I offer you the following excerpt:

note: Haley references the topic of management engagement in innovation and some “interesting posts lately byPaul Hobcraft

I think many high level executives simply don’t know what they have. Until it’s too late.

There are a lot of smart people out there, with great ideas. Talent is something you need if you really want to innovate. And yet, really, most organizations already have that talent. No, not every employee is Jony Ives and is an impact player at that level, but nearly every company has some people that, under the right circumstances, can hit home runs (score goals, set records, win gold, etc.). Ives himself was locked in a closet before Steve Jobs found the key.

In my travels doing talks and such I often have a chance to chat with line workers and middle managers who are beyond frustrated. They have ideas, they have energy, they care about the company — and none of that goodness is being channeled towards innovation. In fact, it’s being actively suppressed in some cases.

The phenomenon that Haley describes is one in which many organizations, even reading about Google or Cisco, who both encourage creativity and innovation, are faltering. Their people are full of great potential that largely goes untapped because there is not a means to commercialize new ideas (or even pursue new methods) because management is not intentional about cultivating input from others–especially those outside the management side of the building. Haley goes on to argue that even those with creative talent, who are often recruited to organizations that need the proverbial “breath of fresh air,” find that their approach is not valued and they begin looking for their next opportunity too soon after joining an organization that so desperately needs them but is not accommodating to them.

He says, “C-suite types, hear this, if you knew  how much talent is wasting away right under your nose, you’d cry in your martini. Don’t believe it? Ask. Ask a sampling of your people the simple question — where are the hidden gems around here? You’ll find out things you didn’t know. People with secret projects, big ideas they’ve been holding back, crazy ideas that just might work…Want to turn the situation around? Ask another question — what’s holding you back?”

I would add to the questions he asks the following:

What are you doing to foster a culture of innovation?

Here are some suggestions–

  1. Change the way you form work teams. Build diversity of thought into as many teams as possible.
  2. Change your own role from decision maker to facilitator. See yourself as primarily responsible to help others shine and succeed.
  3. Create a knowledge management system that captures lessons learned and best practices to be disseminated broadly and consistently.
  4. Celebrate when an employee takes initiative. Find ways to acknowledge them openly.
  5. Get rid of the traditional research and development process. Instead of a department, create an inter-departmental group that represents not just different disciplines, but also different levels of experience and different demographics.

Intrapreneurship is on the rise among savvy competitors. It does not, however,  come without a price–ego has to be checked at the door and individuals valued for their unique contributions.  Your challenge is to retain creative talent that otherwise would start their own businesses or work for more progressive competitors!

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