The world of the intrapreneur

Though it is certainly not a new concept, the term ‘intrapreneur’ is a relatively new word, coined by (or at least credited to) an American couple, Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot, in 1978. It is understood as meaning one who conceives and puts into action the creative, innovative, often risk-taking ideas that form the basis of growth and vitality in business. It’s basically an entrepreneur who’s working inside an already established business – so: intrapreneur.

Steve Jobs was quoted in a Newsweek interview saying that the Macintosh ‘team’ was the essence of intrapreneurship before there was such a word; they started all sorts of new things from the ground up even as they worked for a large corporation. Analysts today will point to this as an example of what can be accomplished with the right people in a forward-thinking organisation.

Other examples include the “Skunk Works” team that worked at Lockheed Martin but as an independent entity supported by the corporation. That team worked on a top-secret project to develop the XP-80 fighter jets, applying the skills and innovations of its members to a project they came up with but that also enhanced the capabilities of and reputation of their parent company.

In the UK, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) works with businesses to improve their ‘people management’, helping find ways to make the best use of talents and aptitudes brought to the company by individuals. CIPD says that encouraging intraperneurial input can be the best way to strengthen and grow a company.

They note that too often when a company grows larger, decision-makers are no longer a part of the ‘nitty-gritty’ aspects of the business, and lose sight of ground level activity and suggestions that could vastly improve their overall prospects. CIPD research adviser Claire McCartney says that as these companies grow it is not unusual for them to lose the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ – and that loss often leads to stagnation, which is never a good thing.

She adds that in talking with administrators in different enterprises, the ones who allow and encourage independent thinking and creativity in their personnel tend to be the ones that remain dynamic and innovative – and successful. Surveys indicate that though well over a third of employees would jump at the ‘intrapreneurial’ option, only about 12% of the companies encourage that involvement.