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Becoming an Intrapreneur: My Story

Early in my career, I managed to double my salary and triple my organizational influence by taking an entrepreneurial approach to my work. I.e. rather than just doing my job, I proactively searched for opportunities to introduce change that would make a huge positive impact on my company.

I got this idea, inadvertently, from a friend. He was trying to get into business school and shared that one of the schools (Harvard I believe) asked only one question of its applicants: "How have you effected positive change within an organization?"

Oddly, this was a revelation. It had never occurred to me that my employer might want me to "effect change" -- I assumed they just wanted me to do my job. But once the light went on, I leapt at the opportunity to become a change agent.

Unfortunately, I leapt in the wrong direction.

My first initiative was a quarterly newsletter aimed at increasing customer engagement and loyalty. Though I executed well on my plan, and generally got positive feedback on both the design and content, the newsletter just didn’t produce enough results to justify continued investment. Eventually, my boss shut it down.

My second initiative was nearly a disaster. We were struggling with serious quality assurance issues at my company so I attempted to implement a much-needed, but deeply resisted, total quality management (TQM) system. I got a lot of egg on my face with that one, and never did achieve the goal.

Finally, I achieved a breakthrough -- a new product line that grew to be a multi-million dollar revenue stream in less than two years.

Including the false starts, it took just over three years to achieve a major success, but what a success it was! In the same amount of time that it would have taken to complete an MBA, I increased my base salary by 220% and changed the fundamental trajectory of my career. It was a life changing experience -- not just for me, but also for my organization, which grew by 20% as a result of my efforts.

Years later, I learned there was a name for what I had done -- intrapreneurship. Just like an entrepreneur, an intrapreneur creates their own opportunity, but they do it within the organization where they work rather than going out on their own. It’s kind of brilliant when you think about it … the security of steady employment combined with the impact of entrepreneurship. Plus, many of us love the organizations we are part of and would like to contribute more to their long-term growth and success if we could.

I also learned that there was a much more strategic approach to becoming an intrapreneur. An approach that would speed the results, increase the impact, and keep the egg off your face. I first started sharing these ideas with my own employees back in 2010 via informal Saturday morning seminars. By 2014, these Saturday morning conversations had evolved into the first draft of a much more structured plan and I started sharing this system with members of my community via a free two-day workshop called “365 Days to Launch.” Finally, inspired by the enormously positive feedback from these workshops and a growing sense of mission, I decided to make intrapreneur enablement my full-time gig. Thus was born LaunchPath. So what is the path to intrapreneurship? At a summary level, it looks like this:

  1. Learn to see the world through your CEO’s eyes
  2. Establish basic credibility
  3. Learn the innovation process
  4. Find your big idea
  5. Get management buy-in
  6. Test the market
  7. Test the model at a conceptual level (prototyping)
  8. Test the model reality (launch a minimum-viable product)
  9. Test the mojo (validate the scalability of your idea)

In my next post, I will start digging into the details of this plan by sharing How to See the World Through Your CEO’s Eyes.

Gray Somerville

Gray Somerville is a serial entrepreneur, innovation expert, and LaunchPath’s CEO. Besides LaunchPath, Gray has helped launch and lead three other successful startups including Telogical Systems and Adacus.

@graysomerville