To Become an Intrapreneur, Get Into This Mindset


An illustration of a brain showing the mindset needed to become an intrapreneur.

As I’ve written, intrapreneurship is simply entrepreneurship in an existing organization. Since many of the ancillary tasks required for successful entrepreneurship are carried out by the existing organization, they are readily available to the intrapreneur. This leaves the intrapreneur free to be primarily a creative person.

To become an intrapreneur, start with creativity.

Creativity is a remarkable thing. It comes through thinking differently. If there’s one thing an intrapreneur must be skilled at, it is creativity.

Creativity begins with a good measure of curiosity. When you use your imagination, you enlarge your mental abilities. You are exploring new opportunities and adventures — this is the starter of creativity.

Meanwhile, the creative process is the basis of invention, which is essential for both entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship. Creativity greatly rewards the thinker, and the process itself often places one in the state of “flow” that was studied extensively by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow represents a highly focused state that artists and inventors experience when they are most productive.

Intrapreneurs Have the Right State of Mind

You prepare to be an intrapreneur the same way as you prepare to be an entrepreneur. You need to have relevant experiences and education. Then, you should focus on learning to be an inventive thinker.

Always consider how things could be done better. Be prepared to experiment. Expect small failures and consider them learning experiences.

Remember what Thomas Edison said about finding the right filament material for the incandescent light bulb. Edison said, “We didn’t fail 999 times, we successfully found 999 materials that didn’t work before we discovered the right material.” Invention cannot happen without trial and error.

Intrapreneurs Invent and Improve

Inventions often come from combinations of things. A new material or design might find uses in numerous different applications. Read related literature and browse the internet for ideas.

Above all, don’t ever allow yourself to think that you aren’t inventive. That would be very unfair to yourself. Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or can’t, you are right.”

All children possess exceptional inventiveness. They must be in order to adapt to a new world. However, many schools overstress conformity and discourage invention and creativity by insisting that students follow the status quo or the “right way” of doing things. They should instead encourage children to invent new ways of doing things.

When you find the fun and joy of creativity at work and are in the “flow” state, you will enjoy the process of inventing.

Intrapreneurs Benchmark Against the Competition

Most companies greatly need more intrapreneurs. Everyone should know how to improve something in their immediate work environment if they try. Find out what your competitors are doing differently. Read trade magazines and surf the web to see what is being done in other companies.

Benchmarking is a technique that identifies something used in one industry that may be applied in another industry.

Learn how other organizations do things. Then, consider benchmarking another industry. How does Starbucks do customer service so well? According to founder Howard Schultz, they benchmarked Nordstrom’s remarkable customer service. You might consider benchmarking aspects of these two organizations’ customer service for your organization.

One other thing to keep in mind: Innovation doesn’t always involve coming up with a totally new concept. Inventions also don’t necessarily have to be major breakthroughs. Incremental improvements account for most inventions, and you might find that adapting someone else’s ideas to your organization to be very effective.

6 More Steps to Becoming an Intrapreneur

  1. Become more observant and frequently ask yourself how things could be done better.
  2. Learn how to develop a business plan and perform a financial analysis.
  3. Understand the steps of innovation, from ideation through implementation.
  4. Know how to develop a group of innovation support people.
  5. Be able to manage the change required to successfully implement an idea.
  6. Have a passion for continuously improving your organization, starting in your own department.

I wish you luck in your intrapreneurial endeavors. Be bold and resilient. New ideas always meet resistance, and you shouldn’t let detractors block them. Test them and prove that they work. Expect that there will need to be modifications along the journey through development and implementation. Any setback is not a failure but an adjustment—and a learning experience.

Your reward will be a new product, service or process that improves your organization and people’s lives. You will attain a great deal of personal satisfaction.

Intrapreneurs Are Always Learning

At Elmhurst University we have created a one-year part-time graduate certificate program in Innovation and Entrepreneurship that develops one’s ability to be an entrepreneur or intrapreneur.

Our hands-on emphasis includes business mentoring, a startup incubator/accelerator, an entrepreneur-in-residence, and other innovation support.

Complete the form below to learn more today!

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About the Author

Bruce Fischer is the Coleman Foundation Distinguished Chair and Professor of Project Management at Elmhurst University. His research interest is innovation and entrepreneurship, and he serves as the director of Elmhurst’s Graduate Certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship program.

Posted Sept. 16, 2021

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