Reactions to my intrapreneur post

My post last week about Entrepreneurship/Intrapreneurship got lots of reaction, thanks in part to Dave Winer, who linked to it and helped it spread around. Thanks Dave!

A few of the responses got me thinking. In particular, Ross Mayfield’s post sparked an interesting discussion. He said:

But shouldn’t any knowledge worker be able to do this at a BigCo? I have problems with using the word Intrapreneur, except for describing an innovative spirit.

I think Ross missed my point here. The examples I shared (getting sponsored search to Yahoo and getting RSS into Yahoo) were exactly describing the innovative spirit and that anyone who believes passionately can make it happen. In both examples, a few of us pushed big change through, and we did it without deep pockets and at some level of personal risk. That leads to the next point, Ross Said:

The difference between an Intrapreneur and an Entrepreneur is the latter takes personal risk.

I don’t agree that there is no risk in Intrapreneurship, however, it is very clear that someone who starts their own company risks a heck of a lot more. Andrew Fife hit the nail on the head:

…the greatest personal risk is ones monthly salary. Entrepreneurship failure means ones salary goes to zero. Intrapreneurship failure may lead to a slowing of one’s salary growth rate. As someone whose startup recently failed, I can attest that this is a significant difference in personal risk.

Here on my own blog, visitor Phil Ayres commented and summarized what I said (boy am I too wordy). I think he got it mostly right, so let me comment:

1) innovative or disruptive ideas are most easily adopted by organizations when they are forced to do something (50% drop in revenue is a good example you give) – otherwise there can be too many barriers put in place to allow anything new to be adopted.

I disagree with this one Phil. Really, you just need to explain the market situation and paint a picture of how the world will look in a year if you don’t act. Search was easy, the trend charts were all down. RSS was much harder, we saw the future, but there wasn’t any immediate problem. I had to share my vision of the world if Yahoo missed the boat. BTW, Yahoo is #1 in RSS now, and all the others launched RSS – imagine what Yahoo would look like if we were still arguing.

2) work in an organization that encourages intrapreneurship, rather than one that just suffers it. Some companies like the idea of idea-ism, just that their afraid of it.

Agreed. But if you are in that kind of company, fight, fight, fight to set it right. And if people don’t get it, get out.

3) for any idea, build a convincing business plan before investing too much in it. Only with continued buy-in from the execs will you be able to get the other organizational changes that are required to fully deliver.

I would change that a bit. Build a convincing business CASE not a plan. Imagine what success looks like and explain that. Pull some numbers together, but don’t spend 6 months writing a plan, instead you should…

4) Get a prototype, beta, or working thing out of the door and in front of customers fast. Ideas that need many months to bring to fruition will never fly in this model. Maybe better said, pick ideas that are as agile as the organization would like to believe it is.

Bingo! Ultimately customers decide on the success or failure of your business, product, service, whatever. There’s no better way to learn and evolve than getting it out there. Thanks Phil for the insight and the help condensing me.