#IntraCnf Toronto wrapped a few weeks ago, and wow – it was our best ever.

I know, I know: people say that all the time about everything. Thing is, it really was. The energy and engagement from the presenters and from the crowd was simply amazing (missed it? Check out pics here). But best of all is seeing what themes emerge during the conference – it provides a snapshot of the current state of intrapreneurship, and innovation in general.

Our goal is always to give participants new insights to share and actions to implement once they’re back in the office. Some tribe members even went ahead and wrote entire articles about their experience, and what they took away from the conference (thank you!).

We’ve compiled those emergent themes and feedback into 8 key takeaways, so you can benefit from them too.

1. We’re over “innovation”.

“Stop using the word Innovation!” was a big theme of the conference. Why? It’s been used and reused so many times, it’s lost all meaning.

If you’ve ever been asked to take part in some blue-sky-thinking idea showers around out-of-the-box, game changing quick-win disruptions, you know what we’re talking about here.

Business leaders know innovation is important, but no-one can actually seem to agree on what it actually means. And though there may be people with the word ‘innovation’ in their job title, that isn’t a sign your company is actually doing anything innovative; in fact, as many speakers pointed out, it may be a sign that your company is not innovative at all.

Luckily, new definitions emerged. Chief among them…

2. Real innovation is action.

Innovation is something we do. It is an action. Many attendees talked about their struggles in making the abundance of ideas floating around their company tangible. The key, as attendee Gabriella Campagna puts it, is to stop talking and start making: “When we practice the act of making and prototyping with our hands rather than trying to convince with our words, progress towards an end goal will amplify. Show, don’t tell. Convince with things rather than words.”

But to get there, leaders need to stop delegating innovation to particular people or teams, and recognize that it’s everyone’s job. As BridgePoint Effect CEO and attendee Janice Francisco points out, engaged leaders create engaged people. To make innovation happen, leaders need to lead it.

While that’s happening in some companies, in other cases…

3. We’re still going to Innovation Theatre.

Training sessions. Suggestion boxes. Ideation events. All these things can be great, if – and only if – they lead to action. Unfortunately, some companies still need a nudge (or a shove) to get out of the “theatre”.

Francisco echoes another recurring theme from the conference: “Real innovation is not about staging events. It’s about changing how you think, how you behave, how you work and what you do. And it takes dedication and time to do it.”

Innovation needs to be pushed throughout the organization, and not just by taking cool field trips or, as attendee Najeeb Khan puts it, “renaming boardrooms trendy names.” To turn innovation to action requires far more than just ideas; it requires a plan, which leads us to…

4. Process, please!

A common concern among participants was too much focus on idea generation, and not enough on follow-through. A tree that falls in the forest with no-one there to hear it probably does make a sound; an idea that emerges from an event with no process to support it makes a sad “pfffft” as it vanishes into thin air, never to be seen again.

Real innovation may start with an idea, but it requires scaffolding on the back-end. Intrapreneurs are begging for structure, process and tools to support their efforts and provide a path to sustainable, positive changes.

5. People matter. Methods? Not so much.

Lots of innovation methods were presented at the conference, but that’s not what got people excited. Other people did.

“Despite the quality and effectiveness of many of the methods presented during the conference, it was always the energy and excitement of the participants that made the real difference in the outcome and experience of the activity,” according to Campagna. “Often, participants were chatting so excitedly about ideas that the moderators struggled to get them back into the next step of the activity.”

Whether during whiteboard sessions, field trips, or selling Wow Butter sandwiches while being chased by a dinosaur, the conference included many opportunities for people to gather in teams and actually do stuff together. And we quickly discovered that the framework you choose matters far, far less to your outcome than actually having a team of engaged, like-minded peers to work with.

6. Intrapreneurs cause “problems”. That’s good.

One common cause of intrapreneurial loneliness? You guys are the problem children. Because you can’t help but see opportunities to do better, you’re sometimes seen as troublemakers.

Intrapreneurs often feel alone at their companies – that’s why we hold the conference in the first place, to bring them together with other “crazy” people. Intrapreneurs need to seek and build a strong network of other intrapreneurs – inside and outside their companies – to help stay on track and make their visions real.

As innovation expert Ken Tencer said, “We need intrapreneurship because we can’t do it alone anymore.” Intrapreneurs can’t do it alone either. Find each other, stick together, and there’s no stopping you.

7. Your job? Disrupt…nicely.

Of course, companies need to create the space for intrapreneurs to gather and work together…and that doesn’t always happen. Another major theme that emerged during the conference was that as an intrapreneur and innovator, you are attempting to change the core business – a business that people have spent years, even lifetimes, creating. That means you’ve got to have some empathy.

As Fransciso puts it, a big part of your job is to socialize ideas, and help people understand how to transition to a new way of working, thinking, and being. I’m trying very hard not to use the term “innovation midwife” here (please, never use this term), but it does kind of apply; in addition to resilience, persistence, and focus, you need to know when to apply some gentle guidance, understanding and support to people who might find change painful.

8. Lighten up, already!

At the conference, there was a lot of joking about innovation in a large company being like pushing water uphill. And it’s true; it’s not easy work, by any means. But we could stand to lose some of the doom and gloom we enjoy commiserating over.

This was something we heard a lot. Campagna puts it like this: “The issue is, if we view intrapreneurial activities as such an uphill battle, we may never make any headway. There is a fear that we are never fully equipped. Spoiler alert: as an intrapreneur in a large organization you will never be fully equipped! We must frame this reality as a positive rather than a detriment to the activity altogether.”

Innovating certainly can be serious business, but it can also be rewarding and – dare we say – fun. We saw that over and over at the conference. When intrapreneurs have a solid team, a clear process, and support, innovation becomes like play. It becomes joyful. And it results in meaningful, sustainable change that actually makes a positive impact on the success of a business.

We want to give a huge thank you to all the crazy, problem-child intrapreneurs who came out to play in Toronto – whether as presenters or participants – and shared their insights one way or another. Keep on making waves. Keep connecting with each other. And look out, corporate innovators in Singapore…we’re coming to you next!