Intrapreneurship – old wine for new times

The term Intrapreneur dates to the 1983 PhD dissertation by Burgelman though its antecedents may lay in the thoughts of some intellectuals much earlier. Almost 7 years before Burgelman’s dissertation, Norman Macrae predicted in The Economist a number of trends in business – among them being ‘dynamic corporations of the future should simultaneously be trying alternative ways of doing things in competition within themselves’.

Other people who gave the concept prominence were Gifford Pinchot who defined it in his 1985 book, "Intrapreneuring"; a revised edition. By 1986 John Naisbett’s book titled ‘Re-inventing the Corporation’ and Steve Jobs’ description of the development of the Mac as an intrapreneurial venture within Apple, made intrapreneurship the mantra for established businesses to find new markets and new products.

By the 90s, the term intrapreneurship had become so overused that it perhaps got into the intellectual blind spot. Being ahead of its time is perhaps the other reason why this important concept lost its relevance as fast as it gained it. Why you may ask, does this term and concept gain significance again today? For that we need to look at intrapreneurship more closely. Loosely interpreted, Intrapreneurship is the practice of entrepreneurial skills and approaches by or within any environment, be it work or be it home. Intrapreneurship is the ability to put something of personal value on the table in the current context, with the vision that that it will grow into something of enormously greater wealth and value in the future.

One essential skill that distinguishes intrapreneurs is the ability to judge, evaluate and take risk. The second essential ingredient of a successful entrepreneur is perseverance. Applying parallel logic, a successful intrapreneur is a person who makes a conscious effort to imbibe and improve on these two qualities.

The last has 15 years have changed India beyond recognition. There is a buoyancy everywhere. It is almost a certainty that everyone will survive & even succeed. But few will go beyond the normal leaps of success and will overtake most others. In these changing times, the definition of risk as a professional has too gone through a radical change. A decade ago, if changing a job too fast demonstrated risk, today, not changing one often enough is evidence of risk!

However, as in the vibrant business environment around us, it is those professionals who incorporate ‘risk’ into their everyday jobs, who will suddenly see their returns multiply manifold. Those who persevere with organizations and demonstrate their resolve (and therefore demonstrate the ability to take the risk of staying with the same organization), who will leapfrog those who seek temporary benefit and change jobs frequently. In an era when being in an organization for 18 to 24 months is considered long term, those with the tenacity to hold on to fast growing organizations will in all probability be laughing all the way to the bank in just 5 to 6 years from now.

Life is changing extremely fast around us, and it is important to understand what constitutes risk in the current context and it is today’s imperative to take risks associated with these dynamic times. In an era where a professional is completely undifferentiated from the next, where movement & replacement of personnel happen almost mechanical, it is those professionals with prescience who will probably be writing the books on how intrapreneurship helped them make their millions.