By Milan Samani, Lab Director, The Intrapreneur Lab
The ‘spirit of the time’ which like a favourable wind, if you catch carries you to a far shore.
Intrapreneurship is individuals pursuing profitable innovations that make a difference…inside their companies. And we think it’s in the zeitgeist.
It seems to resonate with our generation. A generation whose ambition is satisfied by the corporate world but who also seek some meaning and purpose. My life should have some impact. Not just success, but also significance.
A generation like ours who’ve seen the rise of Twitter, Facebook and countless Kickstarter start-ups and are drawn to their entrepreneurial energy; but who also live in a world of big business and for whom a corporate career is a natural step.
In 2012, some of us - friends - at Accenture, Business Fights Poverty and Leadership Laboratories had the idea for The Intrapreneur Lab – a 3 day + 3 month programme that could help individuals inside large companies develop profitable innovations that create social impact.
The idea was to take a group of aspiring intrapreneurs from some big companies (who?) with early stage ideas (no idea how to find them)…
Then assemble a world-class faculty of intrapreneurs like Nick Hughes, founder of M-Pesa and Amit Mehra, founder of Reuters Market Light (no idea how we’d get them) at a world-class business school (no idea how). And for 3 days ask them to speak to our participants authentically about their own experiences.
Then for 3 months, we’d support our participants – Accenture consultants to help them develop their business case, coaching from Leadership Laboratories to help them step outside their comfort zones and access to the Business Fights Poverty global community to source expertise and collaborators.
And 3 months down the line, maybe we’ll have given them the kick-start they need to get something tangible off the ground. Something innovative that helps their company access a new market or develop a new business line. And something that does some good; making people’s lives better and giving the intrapreneurs who’ll have to bust a gut making it happen a sense of purpose & fulfilment; because they did something worthwhile.
It was an idea that needed 14 or 15 miracles to happen in the right order to work.
But we believed in it. We didn’t know how to do it. We just knew we had to.
It was as if the idea of the Lab was a giant boulder, too heavy to move. But in the constant pushing to get it to budge, we became stronger. Better at thinking, collaborating, planning, selling and convincing. I used the term ‘blagging’ once and Zahid (founder of Business Fights Poverty) corrected me, explaining that ‘blagging’ is trying to convince someone of a reality that will never exist. What we were trying to do was convince people of a future that didn’t yet exist. A future we believed in and felt was important enough to work day and night to make happen.
And in trying to move the immovable boulder, we became strong enough to actually shift it.
And so in October 2013, at the Saïd Business School, Leadership Laboratories, Accenture and Business Fights Poverty ran the first Intrapreneur Lab with participants from Barclays, GSK & Novartis. We had the most incredible guest-faculty of intrapreneurs you could imagine, who spoke with humility and honesty and were just plain inspirational.
The journey to get there was exhilarating, exasperating, exhausting & energising – but it was worth it not just for what was achieved but for how it changed us.
I think we become better versions of ourselves when we stretch our limits and work to achieve something we believe in; something that might leave the world a better place than we found it. An ideal.
And the wonderful thing about the Lab is that in working towards something we believe in, we help others do the same.
Our first group of participants are already doing some amazing things. The innovative and potentially significant nature of their projects means a lot of the details are confidential – so I can’t go into specifics. And while it may take them a year to get their projects to pilot, I’ll bet all the money in my pockets that a few years down the line, some of them will end up managing business units that generate millions of dollars of revenue and meaningfully impact as many lives.
And the privilege we have is to not only help and witness the growth of their ideas, but help and witness their personal journey in fulfilling their unique potential – like being inside a time-lapse movie, we see change happening all around us.
So the boulder is now moving. We have 3 labs confirmed for 2014 – New York City hosted by Cornell University in May, back to Saïd Business School in Oxford in October, and then to Johannesburg at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in November – with Barclays, Novartis & GSK set to send us some more participants…and hopefully many more companies to join them.
Barclays is about to launch internal marketing – so anyone inside the bank (whichever department they work in) with an idea can submit it and the best ones get to come on the Lab. No-one’s sure of how many applications they’re going to receive. I think they’ll get a hundred.
And if from those hundred, they pick a handful. And 9 other companies pick a handful of their best ideas. And by 2015, we can do even just 3 labs a year (maybe adding Africa or Asia to the list of locations) then in 5 years time, over 500 people will have been through an Intrapreneur Lab.
And if a quarter of those projects are successfully taken to scale, in companies of that size, think of the impact we could have. That’s over 100 profitable projects that create social impact in 100 of our largest companies.
And in 5 years time, I’ll bet all the money in my pockets that some of our participants will be Managing Directors and Executive Directors. Think how they’ll run their business units and companies then?
Think of what that could mean.
It’s where we think the zeitgeist is going.
The zeitgeist is bigger than us. And one of the many things our guest-faculty demonstrated was the power and importance of humility.
Truth is, we don’t know if we’re right. No-one knows.
But we’re giving it a shot.
It’s a future that doesn’t exist yet. But it’s one that we believe in.
If you have an idea that won’t go away; an idea that you think could benefit society and your company’s bottom line; an idea you believe in - and would like to participate, give us a call.
You’ll have to persuade your company that you coming is in everyone’s interests – but we’ll do our best to help you convince them (we’re getting quite good at it).
The Intrapreneur Lab is a collaboration between Leadership Laboratories, Accenture and Business Fights Poverty.
Milan Samani is Director of Leadership Laboratories.
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