Intrapreneurs deliver faster than hierarchy, noted Gifford Pinchot recently. When speed and agility increasingly make the difference between winning and losing, it’s no wonder companies large and small are experimenting with ways to foster innovation from within.

Intrapreneurship done well not only leads to promising and profitable new products and services- it drives innovation of how innovation is done, and is a vehicle for company-wide transformation.

So fresh into the new year, it’s the perfect time to have a look at the broader landscape. Building on his keynote during Intrapreneurship Conference Silicon Valley, we asked Ricardo dos Santos (4INNO LLC) to share below what he learned from interviewing dozens clients, practitioners and experts on that all-important question: what’s happening in corporate innovation in 2017?

Are you ready?

Ricardo dos Santos during Intrapreneurship Conference Silicon Valley, November 2016

Trend #1: The “People First” Transformation

By and large, the present Intrapreneurial system isn’t good to people – ‘people’ being those brave volunteers that decide to pursue an idea above and beyond their current day job responsibilities and means. For the record, there’s no such thing as conscribed intrapreneurship – that’s an oxymoron.  Intrapreneurs are leaders and for leaders you need volunteers.

In general, corporations offer no official funding or support for Intrapreneurs, or worse, provide programs that are only equipped to ‘kick the can down the road’.   If that isn’t bad enough, Intrapreneurs are often punished for sticking their necks out due to disincentives of their management structure.   They are sadly considered the military equivalent of deserters.

“We’ve finally understood that the key to “Sustainable Transformation” is in democratizing Innovation. Organizations must embrace and reward employees who explore, experiment and learn as part of their daily job, not just the “special project”.  That’s how you drive continuous and holistic innovation, that’s how you make it a sustainable way of being.” – Kristin McClanahan Raza (Salesforce)

Of course we, the supporters of Intrapreneurship, know that Intrapreneurs are NOT by any means deserters. They are needed conscientious objectors to an otherwise unchallenged war, aka corporate growth strategy.

Intrapreneurs are good even when their ideas are bad. 

The good news is that we’ve apparently started the transformation. Corporations that have deliberately embraced transformation with innovation as its key value are realizing that culture trumps everything else. And the culture approach to transformation says to start with people, including the welcoming of intrapreneurial attitudes and behaviors from anyone that so desires to think and act different, shall inspiration strike them.

This is refreshing and strikingly different from the transformational approach that only values guaranteed innovations or innovation practices – that only leads to frustration and distrust and it’s no wonder most transformation initiatives are not sustaining.


Trend #2: Evidence-Based Innovation

Borrowing from Evidenced-Based-Medicine, all the common Innovation methods are becoming evidenced-based in their essence (vs. craft or tradition based).  This includes Design Thinking, Customer Development / The Lean Startup, Jobs-to-be-Done, Disruptive Innovation and Open Innovation.

Being ‘Evidence-Based’ in Innovation means mixing research findings with judgement.

Research findings include relying on other’s past work (proven theories) as well as investing in one’s own ‘good enough’ experiments when new data is necessary.  In either case, judgement is needed to add speed and practicality to the particular problem at hand – When it comes to Innovation, one can hardly afford the luxury of perfectly controlled science.

“Evidence or learning is the new metric for measuring progress.” – Jean-Claude Junqua (Former Panasonic, ce2innovate)

The point of Evidenced-Based Innovation and every single one of aforementioned Innovation methods is to help us learn and make better decisions – decisions on what’s best for the customer and the company, not the technology for its own sake.  

There is no point in obsessing about a particular method or picking a best method of learning.   No one is giving out colored belts in this corporate martial art – it’s about surviving in a street fight, not winning a contest.

And for that, companies are realizing they need their innovators to mix and match various learning methods – to be mixed martial artists – to make the point, many companies have branded their own evidenced-based fighting style, combining elements of various methods into their own internal common language of transformation.


Trend #3: Advantaged Networks

Business isn’t going to remain as usual.

Business 1.0, or the ‘Simple Era’ was about vertical competition.   Products and assets ruled the earth, corporations exploited natural resources and ‘things’.  Innovators learned marketing and product development and that was good enough to dominate well known markets.

Business 2.0, or the ‘Complicated Era’ that’s soon ending is about horizontal competition or platforms.  Business Models rule, corporations exploit IT and the internet. Innovators learn User Experience, Business Modeling, Digital Strategy and Attention Capital to control markets with known problems in need of creative solutions.

But Business 3.0, or the coming ‘Complexity Era’ is where things get interesting, where we enter the world in which we don’t know what we don’t know, where we must discover new problems or opportunities.

Business 3.0 isn’t about competition anymore – it’s about cross-industry ecosystems like the connected car, the smart home, digital health, etc.  Advantaged networks rule, corporations exploit the internet of things (Connected devices, the cloud, big data and machine learning).

Innovators will learn to scale talking to customers, that controlling is dead, and that it isn’t inspiring, purpose is.  That to play, you must network, to win you must collaborate.  And that to collaborate, you must bring data, the only currency or platform that matters.

“It’s increasingly hard to stay on top of all developments in technology, regulation, and markets on your own. Having a network of partners can not only help generate innovative ideas, it can also improve speed to market and provide a superior solution to the customers.” – Sandeep Mor (Sempra)

Advantaged networks also apply to the future of Open Innovation, or OI 2.0.  OI 1.0’s motto was “the world is your lab”, implying a hierarchical, transactional relationship between seeker/solver.

OI 2.0’s motto is “the world is a co-lab”, implying a more distributed share of tasks and value from Innovation.   OI 2.0 will be about co-creating with the network (and the corresponding platforms to scale).  

This includes co-creating with a) Customers, through revenue-share communities and crowdfunding platforms, b) Startups and free-lance inventors, through startup studios, accelerators, EIR’s (Entrepreneurs in Residence) and IOR’s (Intrapreneurs out of Residence), c) Partners and Coo-petitors, d) Private Universities & Research Centers and last but not least, e) Government.


Trend #4: Intra-VC’ing

In Intrapreneurship, we’ve long worked on the selling of ideas – it’s time to work on the buying. 

Due to the sheer number of ideas and their varying stages of development, corporations are embracing a shift towards a distributed system of funding and support vs. a centralized, one-size fits all approach.  The new approach to ‘Intra-VC’ing’ that properly complements the nature of ‘Intra-Preneuring’ includes building ‘Islands of Good’ along the river of idea formation, exploration and execution, requiring an increasing degree of evidence to fund and support from:

  1. Internal Startup Schools with micro-funding: Evidence sought is desire to learn
  2. Challenge or Prize Competitions: Evidence sought is an attractive opportunity
  3. Manager Angels and Employee Crowdfunding: Evidence sought is proof of concept
  4. Ad-Hoc Funding Boards (Accelerators): Evidence sought is product-market fit validation
  5. Business Unit & Corporate Funds: Evidence sought is a scalable business model

The challenge remains in bridging these single purpose ‘Islands of Good’ into a cohesive system driven by a continuous pull-force to make risk-appropriate investments.   Things can easily devolve into the Not-Invented-Here Syndrome, and we’re back to ‘kicking the can down the road’ if the downstream Islands don’t respect what comes from the upstream Islands.

“Managers need to become active investors through ‘use it or lose it’ early-stage funding.” – Babak Forutanpour (Former Qualcomm, Outerwall)


Trend #5: Extra-Preneuring

Going forward, Intrapreneuring requires more than just fighting for one’s own idea.

The modern Intrapreneur is already experiencing a metamorphosis towards a more complete change agent or an Extrapreneur, one who champions for internal transformation as well as the new spirit of external collaboration. 

Of all the needed intrapreneurial traits (self-motivation, courage, networking skills, evidence-based methods, and ability to persuade), networking skills take on key importance for the blossoming Extrapreneur – the ability to gain the trust of sponsors and well as the trust of business partners.

“Empathetic listening and exposing oneself to diverse differences in thinking is a powerful benefit of networking, but what’s even more vital is being able to cohesively bring the outside in to intelligently design solutions and drive positive, engaging change within.” – Rebecca Hemenway (Illumina)

The future does indeed belong to Extrapreneurs, not corporate drones.

They have the only scarce resource in the coming age of complexity – the willingness to act in the face of uncertainty. And in this context, “to act” includes looking for opportunity, forming teams, getting advice, developing customers, developing sponsors, co-creating with partners, validating, and selling something to somebody before someone pulls the plug.

No matter your industry, no matter your history- intrapreneurship helps you pave the way to a bright future. Have a great 2017!

Acknowledgements – the following people collaborated in this research and share credit for the findings:

Rick Waldron (Nike), Sharon Wong (X-Cisco, Self), Dave Blakely (X-IDEO, Mach49), Eileen Tanghal (ARM), Mike Doherty (Venture2), Dawn Nolan (Whirlpool), Jean-Claude Junqua (X-Panasonic, ce2innovate), Jean-Claude Benevento (Symantec), Kristin McClanahan Raza (Salesforce), Babak Forutanpour (X-Qualcomm, Outerwall), Mark Lopez (Univision), Marvin Gross (HP Inc.), Dawn Murphy (St-Gobain), Rebecca Hemenway (Illumina), Tehani Renganathan (MAS Holdings), Mathilde Durvy (Cisco), Alex Gorbachev (Cisco), Sandeep Mor (Sempra Energy), Brant Cooper (MovestheNeedle) and Larry Huston (4iNNO LLC).