What is common between Cisco, GE, and Intuit? They all knew that before they could disrupt markets and competitors with breakout innovations, they first had to disrupt themselves. And fast.

In order for innovation to come from anyone, anywhere, always (our definition of intrapreneurship), they all shook things up in their own unique way. Let’s hear from their innovation leaders about their approach.


Cisco: Innovate Everywhere

Cisco’s Mathilde Durvy @ Intrapreneurship Conference Silicon Valley

Cisco launched the Innovate Everywhere Challenge to capture and develop venture ideas from their employees, and develop entrepreneurial skills and culture within the organization. It was an enormous success, with almost half of their 72,000 global workforce participating, generating 1,000 venture ideas.

In the first challenge, cross-functional teams submitted their ideas and were judged in an open forum, where peers and leadership could discuss ideas and give feedback. However, a few issues emerged: more manager support was needed, the judging process had to improve (friends ended up voting for friends), and more focus on where to innovate was needed.

In the second challenge, Cisco introduced ‘Founders’ and ‘Angels’. Founders are given a loose target or problem to solve – what Cisco calls an ‘ambition statement’ – around a market, and the freedom to mix-in business models and technology to find innovative solutions.

Angels, primarily managers and leaders, can participate as backers, judges or sponsors, and can invest tokens into ideas they liked – just like venture capitalists do when funding startups. Angels are being rewarded for investing smartly and building successful portfolios.

And just like last year, three winners will be chosen by a panel of Cisco and industry leaders, awarded 25K seed funding and the option to take three months dedicated to building their ideas. Cisco will again also match funding for non-winners who find a sponsor to help them continue their ventures outside of the challenge. Eight teams from last year are in various stages of venture development, including some pilots with customers!

GE FastWorks

GE’s Rik Dryfoos @ Intrapreneurship Conference Silicon Valley

Similarly, GE knew it needed to speed up product development time in order to remain competitive. Working alongside thought leaders like Eric Ries, GE developed FastWorks, an innovation framework originally developed for New Product Introduction (NPI) and large-scale process change, focused on customer collaboration, continuous testing and ongoing iteration.

Since its implementation in 2014, FastWorks has gone through several iterations. The framework was first introduced for NPI. However, it was discovered that the principles of FastWorks could reach far beyond NPI. Employees could use FastWorks for their basic, everyday activities; influencing everything from how they set and define (and change) priorities, how they fund projects and how they conduct annual reviews. The intense focus on customer pain points, and the implicit permission to try and fail, has helped GE work simpler, become more customer-focused and outcome driven, and get solutions to their customers faster.

FastWorks combines the speed and agility of a startup with the scale and resources of GE. The company uses their framework to increase efficiency, speed to market and market impact, and to test ideas and fail fast. This framework asks employees to start with a question or idea; then experiment, test, learn and iterate. Employees are encouraged to challenge assumptions instead of accepting them.

The goal is to keep up with the pace of change by changing not just the way employees act, but the way they think about their work, their roles, their projects.

Intuit Innovation Catalysts

Intuit’s Bennett Blank @BlankBen @ Intrapreneurship Conference Silicon Valley

Last but not least, Intuit’s biggest challenge: How do we ensure innovation is taking place without a formal innovation silo, “incubator” or central group responsible for developing new products? Called for their action of making innovation a part of everyone’s job.

Intuit invest a lot of effort into training employees on a series of core innovation capabilities, called Design for Delight and Customer Driven Innovation, which helps people be innovative in their daily work. Additionally, intuit maintains an internal network of volunteer Innovation Catalysts who act as coaches to teams in need. It is a sort of a leadership training, as many of the employees who go through the training end up growing into senior roles. This training is open to anyone, from any department.

These initiatives, help innovate not just products, but business processes too. One example is from an Innovation Catalyst & Product Manager who applied their Design for Delight principles to solve the challenge of hiring the best possible people.

The result is a program called Assessing For Awesome. Potential candidates go through a real project before hiring decisions are made, so the candidate, teams and hiring manager get a real sense of fit and capability. As a result, the time to hire was reduced, the candidate experience improved (even for those not hired), and Intuit is able to find better matches between candidates and teams.

As more employees learn innovation skills, Intuit can quickly assemble small teams to drive innovation. One metric that teams always need to target is based on the company’s mission: What’s the measurable improvement in the customer’s life that matters the most to them when choosing a product or service?

To foster innovation towards this goal, Intuit’s focus is always on their people – If you show them how to innovate, and give them the time and space to do it, they will surprise you with game changing innovations wherever they are.

Though these three took different approaches to creating an internal ecosystem for innovation, they all fundamentally believe innovation can and will come from anyone, anywhere, always, and it’s the organization’s job to enable anyone, anywhere, always to innovate. Then, intrapreneurship is no longer just a program. It’s business as usual.