Nurturing Intrapreneurship

by julia.hanigsberg | December 2nd, 2013

Ryerson is a University that has built a tremendous reputation on entrepreneurship and innovation. The most well-known example is our DMZ (Digital Media Zone). Ryerson has also been named Canada’s only Ashoka Changemaker Campus in recognition of our commitment to social innovation. The Provost is currently consulting on the next Academic Plan in which he is exploring the concept of “zone education” as a way of spreading these concepts across the curriculum.

But what do entrepreneurship and innovation mean for the team responsible for administration and finance across the University? At a recent breakfast for our Administration & Finance leaders I asked the group to consider what it would mean for us to all think of ourselves as intrapreneurs. Wikipedia defines intrapreneurship as “employee initiatives in organizations to undertake something new without being asked to do so.”

What do intrapreneurs do? They try out new things. They learn from failure. They attempt to improve existing processes. They conserve resources. Like their entrepreneur counterparts, intrapreneurs take initiative, aren’t afraid of risk, are innovative and creative and they are problem-solvers. They don’t give up because the first solution they try doesn’t work. These are attributes that the business world has long valued and they are also attributes that can steer you toward career advancement and happiness.

This concept may have a new name but it isn’t a new idea. One of the best known examples is the “Skunk Works” group at Lockheed Martin. The group was brought together in 1943 to build the P-80 fighter jet. When we talk about “skunk works” style projects now (often in the context of technology) we typically mean a loosely organized and cross-functional team that works autonomously to solve a particular problem. More contemporary well-known corporate examples are Intel, HP, 3M and Google each of which encourages employees to undertake projects in an innovation-friendly atmosphere.

An article called “The Intrapreneur’s Playbook” in Fast Company magazine has some tips that resonate with me for our team.

  • Think of “pilot” as “code for ‘this may not work’.” In other words: under promise and over deliver and don’t let the chance of failure get in the way of trying out a new idea.
  • “[B]ootstrap as long as possible.” Why? “When people give you money, they expect results.” Leverage existing resources to show how you can solve a problem before you make the budget request.
  • To be an effective intrapreneur you need to balance innovation with the organization’s priorities. Innovation doesn’t mean going off willy nilly in your own direction.

You may already be exhibiting intrapreneurship without even knowing it. A couple of members of the HR team started “Ask an HR Expert,” a weekly lunch time drop-in for anyone who wants some informal career development advice. This is a great example of intrapreneurship and there are lots more out there. I’m eager to hear more examples. Comment on this blog, or tweet me @Hanigsberg with the hashtag #RUIntrapreneur

Are you ready to take the plunge into intrapreneurship in your work at Ryerson?

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