Harness or Release the Intrapreneur Troublemaker?

Recently, the World Economic Forum convened in Davos for its annual meeting. What, one may ask, does such a high brow event have to do with intrapreneurship and innovation in business? Actually, one of the panel discussions at the Forum was on social intrapreneurship. The definition that was being used seemed to focus on the social implications of the issue as it relates to those change makers who offer creative solutions and drive growth. Gib Bulloch, the Executive Director for the Accenture Development Partnership, writing for the Huffington Post last week, noted that there exists no job title for the social intrapreneur. Admittedly, he argued, no one leaves college or university to become one and the  role lacks a clearly defined job description. Companies that embrace the power of these intrapraneurs to think differently and innovate, Bulloch said, have significant opportunities to leverage their passion and benefit the business.

Bulloch recalls Vodafone’s M-PESA mobile banking business as a prime example of the benefit of empowering intrapreneurs:

The idea of using mobile phones as bank accounts for the un-banked in Kenya was not born in the corporate boardroom. It was the brain child of a middle manager in the marketing department, Nick Hughes, who came up with the concept and brought it to the attention of those who could advance its development, both inside and outside the company. Seven years into the program, a thriving M-PESA business now delivers socio-economic benefits for Kenya and business benefits for Vodafone.

Therein lies the key to social intrapreneurship. It is not a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program. It is a business growth initiative that tears down barriers and embraces the passionate ideals and innovation of the millennial generation now flooding into the workplace. It is a concept that captures the zeitgeist of young people who care less about making a fortune on Wall Street and more about making a difference on Main Street.Intrapreneurman

For organizations that aspire to leverage the rare win-win of business benefit with social good in 2013, four key takeaways have emerged as guideposts for developing an effective social intrapreneurship program:

• The role of leadership is key: In the early stages of an innovation program, leadership must provide the air cover required to protect bottom-up ideas. As the best ideas mature, they must be promoted within the organization and embraced from the top down.

• Harness the troublemaker: Social intrapreneurs are at their core different from their peers. They march to a different drum beat and their passions fuel both their personal and work lives. Having a culture that both nurtures the change maker’s innovative spirit but also harnesses the troublemaker’s enthusiasm and energy to break molds and achieve where others have come up short will return significant rewards.

• Realize the retention value: For the social intrapreneur, making a difference is often equal to making money. For organizations that embrace the value of providing “bottom up” channels for creative business solutions that provide social good, the long term benefits for retaining your best innovators cannot be understated. Simply put, for the millennial generation, making a difference matters.

• Base decisions on the Business Case: Even for the most passionate social intrapreneurs, the numbers still matter. Innovations that pull on the heart strings as opposed to the levers of business value are unlikely to be sustainable or scalable in the long run

How do you see these guidelines at play inside your own organization? Is top leadership committed to openly supporting new ideas? Are those who see the world differently perceived as liabilities or assets? What are you doing to keep these change agents engaged and motivated? Does your group operate on emotional or sound business foundations? Harness the power of the intrapreneur!

 

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A Matrix of Insights Into Innovation

Have you ever listened to a “friend of a friend of a friend” story and wondered why the storyteller was recounting something? Surely, you thought, there must be something substantial lost in translation–kinda like the old “telephone game” in which you are in a circle with others, share a statement with someone to your left, who does likewise around the circle only to have a totally different statement return to you. Well, I hope this blog post is nothing like that! However, I would like to share a book review by a friend of mine, Jeffrey Phillips. (Do the math–I have not read the book, do not know the author or his content except vicariously, but I do know Jeffrey and respect his commentary on a number of matters.)

Phillips is a prolific writer, speaker, and practitioner of innovation. As often happens with people who have created a following, he has been asked on numerous occasions to review books written by others having to do with his favorite professional subject–innovation. A couple weeks ago, he wrote a review of Creative Strategy, A Guide for Innovation, written by William Duggan, describing the book as follows: “a step-by-step guide to help individuals and organizations put Strategic Intuition to work for their own innovations.” It is to be noted that Duggan previously wrote Strategic Intuition. Innovation, as defined by Duggan, encompasses products, business models, entrepreneurship, and social enterprises. Phillips finds the book to be “a real conundrum, very specific in recommending (a) three step process (detailed below) and refuting or denigrating many innovation and creativity techniques, while at the same time the book can be annoyingly vague or indeterminate.” So, let me save you the experience of reading the entire book and just hone in on the three step process: rapid appraisal, the “what-works” scan and creative combinations. To quote Phillips:

Rapid appraisal is about breaking the problem into “chunks” or more discrete elements, often known as decomposition.  This simply makes a larger problem an association of smaller problems or challenges.  The What Works scan entails looking across industries, geography and time to see if anyone, anywhere has created a solution to any of the smaller “chunks”.  If so, can we adopt or modify the solution elsewhere to the problem at hand?  The third stepcreative combinations, asks us to look for creative solutions across what Duggan calls the Insight Matrix.  The Insight Matrix is a simple X-Y chart:  problem “chunks” down the vertical axis, potential solutions on the horizontal axis and interesting combinations at the intersections.

While Duggan may be the first to design his “Insight Matrix”, none of these tools will be new to innovators.  The concept of breaking challenges into smaller components (known as decomposition) is well-known to innovators and one that many innovation methodologies practice.  It is often easier to break a challenge or need into smaller components and build a solution up, rather than address the entire challenge at once.  

Creativity wordleLikewise, what Duggan calls the “what-works” scan is not new either.  There is an entire school of thought within innovation that argues that every problem has already been solved, it is simply our job to discover how and where the solution exists.  Bio-mimicry, for example, stipulates that nature has already solved many problems that we encounter, and we can learn from, adapt and adopt those solutions.  

Finally, Duggan’s creative combination approach simply suggests that we adopt the “best” solution for each chuck from the best alternative solution from the what-works scan, and create a total solution by putting these discrete solutions back together.  Again, nothing new here.  Good innovators know that most good ideas happen at the intersection of new technologies and markets. 

In the final analysis, the Insight Matrix is the best thought of the book–probably worth checking out, even if many other concepts take longer to develop and may not be innovative themselves.

 

 

Motivations From Branson’s Mom

Business leaders–whether of start-up or large businesses, should possess certain qualities in order to lead their organizations well. In the domain of emotional intelligence, these characteristics often include empathy, social skills, motivation, self awareness and self regulation. In a recent blog post on Entrepreneur.com, the following question was asked:

 

Q: Is self-motivation an innate quality or is it something that can be learned and improved upon?
– Chris Prior, Liverpool, England

 

Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin (Records, Airways, Mobile, etc) offered the following response:

If you aren’t good at motivating yourself, you probably won’t get very far in business – especially as an entrepreneur. When you’re starting up a company and for the first couple of years afterward, there are a lot of long nights and stressful days, and the workload is heavy. You have to be able to give the job everything you’ve got every day, or it will easily get the better of you.

The ability to tap into your determination and grit is not just an innate skill. You can teach yourself to get up every day and try to keep a new business going despite long odds, partly by structuring your life and job to make sure you are working toward your larger goals.Branson Virgin Brands

(My mother) feels that shyness is very selfish, as it means you are only thinking of yourself, and so she was very insistent that I look adults in the eye and shake their hands, and carry on conversations with guests at dinner and at parties — no excuses. (She) also taught me to dive into situations even if I wasn’t completely sure about my own abilities, and then solve the problems that came up as I went along. When I was almost 12, she once sent me alone on a long bike-riding expedition to another town, knowing that I would be fine, but also that I’d have to find water and ask for directions along the way.

Before I left school at 16, I was already working on launching what became one of my first businesses, Student magazine. Then when my friends and I put ourselves in a position that forced the issue, by moving into a basement in West London that served as both our office and our living quarters, we really gave our magazine everything we had.

There were times when we struggled to pool together enough money to afford a proper meal — that in itself was a great motivator to follow through on calls to potential advertisers. In the larger picture, we were willing to live with such uncertainty because we wanted to give our generation a voice on issues that we felt strongly about, such as the Vietnam War; this shared goal meant a great deal to everyone involved.

It’s important to understand what your main motivation is so that you can focus your efforts on reaching those goals. Then structure your job – perhaps by delegating some work – so that you can spend as much time as possible turning this energy to your company’s advantage.

Above all, you should work on building a business you’re proud of. This has always been a motivator for me, from my Student magazine days, through to our latest start-ups today. I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If money is your only motive, then I believe you shouldn’t launch the business at all.

Once you know what your own motivations and aspirations are, talk to your employees and colleagues about theirs, if you haven’t already. Then structure their jobs in a way that allows them to tap into this energy, too. With you and your employees approaching your work with renewed energy and commitment, you’ll find that there’s little that you can’t accomplish together.

Good advice, indeed, from one of the most successful serial entrepreneurs on the planet. Branson understands what it takes to be successful. As you evaluate your own level of motivation and how you inspire others to be self-motivated, hopefully you can take notes from him on some best practices and the proper mindset.

 

Know the Customer Before Business Planning

Previously, I have referenced the column from Inc.com on “Herding Gazelles,” written by Karl Stark & Bill Stewart. These guys have a consultancy that works with businesses on strategy as it relates to attracting investment. Their contributions to Inc are well thought out and I enjoyed this morning’s edition:

We have been working with an early-stage enterprise tech company to help them get their product to market. We recently gathered to watch their first customer installation. They were naively fearless–they knew things would go wrong, but they didn’t know what or how severe the problems would be.

No one, however, expected the install to go as badly as it did. If there was a feature that could be broken, it was. If there was a process that could be challenged by the new technology, it was. If there was a remote possibility that some network setting would cause chaos, it did.

All the testing they did in advance didn’t prepare them for “real” users. The tech team was at first horrified by the volume and severity of the challenges they experienced. But then something amazing happened. They showed us exactly why we are excited about their potential.

They took a deep breath, stopped trying to gloss over the challenges, and instead embraced their flaws. They encouraged users to try to break things. They feverishly took notes as they learned what they needed to do better.Customer insight wordle

The customer wasn’t scared off by the bugs because our client had prepared them for possible issues. The team was honest about where the problems were, but more importantly, they showed the customer their resolve to learn everything that they could to develop a great product. The customer’s attitude actually shifted from tolerance to excitement as they realized the system was going to be refined beyond just fixing flaws and that they were going to be a part of designing a system that they would love to use.

The tech company accepted that they didn’t know it all and eagerly solicited feedback from the customer. The experience gave them the best free product development input they could ever expect.

We thought to our own client experiences, and the experiences our other clients have with their customers. If we can all listen to customers as openly as this tech start-up did, we will not only build great products and services, but we will forge the sort of lasting relationships that most companies seek.

When developing new products and services, it’s good to trust your intuition and your internal expertise–to a point. But when an opportunity to learn from a real live customer presents itself, you need to be all ears. You can’t possibly know it all if you don’t recognize the wisdom of others.

What is recommended here echoes what I am sharing with entrepreneurs on a recurring basis: until you fully understand the needs of your (target) customer, you are fooling yourself as to the viability of your business model. Taking the time to first identify target market segments, then messaging appropriate to each, followed by testing your proof of concept in an effort to revise your offerings is Business 101.

We are passionate about the need to understand how your target buyer thinks, what is important to them, and how you can produce something that they perceive as highly valuable. Asking is a great start! Slowing down from product or service development, let alone ongoing business operations, and asking yourself tough questions requires discipline and commitment. Kudos to those who are strategic enough to realize the potential compound payback on the investment!

 

When Less Polish is Better

 

The week before last, I stopped by one of my satellite offices to visit with my team mates. Unfortunately, none of them were there as all had outside appointments. What I did encounter, however, was a leftover Christmas gift. A referral partner of mine had dropped an envelope off for me and I hadn’t been by since he did. Inside the envelope was a book and a very kind note. The book’s title, Getting Naked, caught me off guard, but the contents were a very pleasant surprise.

The author is Patrick Lencioni, famous for his previous work, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Lencioni is well known for teamwork, leadership, and organizational health expertise on the speaking circuit. The book is told as a type of fable, with narrative mixed in with didactic lessons. First person narrative is used to show a change of heart from a traditional approach to client service to one that is very vulnerable, transparent, and self effacing. Excerpts from the book are provided below to give you an overview of its themes and principles.Young consultants

Lencioni writes that most service providers are susceptible to three fears that prevent them from building trust and loyalty with clients:

1. Fear of Losing the Business

No service provider wants to lose clients, business opportunities, or revenue. Ironically, though, this fear of losing the business actually hurts our ability to keep and increase business, because it causes us to avoid doing the difficult things that engender greater loyalty and trust with the people we’re trying to serve.

2. Fear of Being Embarrassed

No one likes making mistakes in public and having to endure the scrutiny of spectators, especially when those spectators are paying us for advice or counsel. And yet, like a fifth-grader, we know that the only thing worse than raising our hand and having the wrong answer is failing to put our hand up at all (and realizing that more often than not, we did indeed have the right answer). This fear, then, is rooted in pride, and it is ultimately about avoiding the appearance of ignorance, wanting to be seen as smart or competent.

3. Fear of Feeling Inferior

Like the previous fear, this one has its roots in ego, but there is an important difference between the two. Fear of feeling inferior is not about our intellectual pride, but rather about preserving our sense of importance and social standing relative to a client. 

Lencioni makes several great points.  It is so easy in a client facing role to withhold information that we sense the client may perceive to be bad news. There is almost a subconscious thought that the client will think less of us because we can’t control the outcome. Instead, we are exhorted to be frank and sincere because in so doing we will win confidence and trust. In the long run, we are more believable for having let our guard down–not less! In addition to being willing to say tough things, the thought of asking crazy questions without worry about how we will be perceived is very freeing. When a service provider is not afraid to make the client look good at her own expense, she has the right view of how the relationship should be structured. We ar to be there for the client’s needs–not the reverse.