When it comes to identifying, recruiting and nurturing intrapreneurs (corporate innovators and entrepreneurs), there are a number of characteristics and traits you should look for.
While many employees may get temporarily excited by the prospect of working on a ‘corporate startup’ or taking part in a hackathon, the number of employees who embody the mindset and approach required to successfully innovate within a large organisation is much lower.
What to look for, in no particular order:
1: Resilience and Tenacity
Building a new venture requires facing numerous roadblocks and setbacks, not only from customers, partners, regulators and so on but also internally, as intrapreneurs navigate the minefield that is corporate innovation, the processes, values and systems they need to work around and the politics that comes with it.
2: Influencing Skills
Large organisations are built to execute, not to discover. As such, most people in the organisation will not think like innovators and instead will think like risk managers and by extension of their trying to do what’s in the interest of execution, will hinder innovation.
Being able to effectively influence decision makers will play a significant role.
3: Connecting the Dots between Broad Interests and Experiences
This is two-fold.
To innovate effectively, associational thinking - or connecting the dots - is critical.
Steve Jobs connected the dots between calligraphy, zen buddhism, a visit to Xerox’s research centre to come up with the minimalist and clean graphical user interface of the first Macintosh.
But one can first not connect the dots without having broad experiences and interests in the first place which brings us to...
Broad experiences come with curiosity. Not simply accepting what is served up by mainstream media but diving deeper. Look for intrapreneurs to consume or have an interest in different types of people, music, art, film, literature, travel spots, sport, activities, news sources and so on that fall far from the definition of mainstream. Innovators are a little ‘whacky’ by societal norms.
5: Challenges the Status Quo
Innovators won’t just accept “the way things have always been done around here”.
They will question why things are done a certain way. They might propose alternative ways doing things. They will be the bane of the existence of change averse managers.
Innovators challenge authority and would rather ask for forgiveness than permission.
6: Well Networked
Corporate innovators tend to have a network outside the organisation, which in turn helps them build broad experiences, demonstrates curiosity and also helps them accelerate their internal ventures through collaborations with the outside. Look for them to attend meetups, conferences, have a large number of connections on LinkedIn and so on.
7: Shameless Self-Promoter
Entrepreneurs and innovators are shameless self promoters - they don’t care for tall poppy syndrome. If they can do a good job promoting themselves, they serve to build brand awareness, authority and their network which in turn suggests that they have the skills required to successfully promoting new ventures. They might blog, host podcasts, give talks, have a large following on Linkedin, be active on the Twitterverse and so on.
Innovation isn’t a part time or casual gig. Corporate innovators must be passionate about their projects if they’re to carry them through all the various roadblocks, ask critical questions and apply critical thinking required to take ideas from zero to one.
9: Socratic Thinker
“All i know is that I know nothing” - while entrepreneurs may have vision, they are happy to concede that they don’t have all the answers, are relentless learners and realise that orapid experimentation will deliver better answers than their own internal dialog. Innovators are self aware and introspective and are able to take emotion out of the equation when evaluating progress.
10: Tolerant of Ambiguity
As with 9, rather than call for an elaborate plan up front, where the answers are prescribed, innovators realise that when it comes to Horizon 3, disruptive innovation, the answers are unknown. While people who exist to help an organisation execute will be scared off by this reality, innovators embrace it and do what they need to do to discover the answers that other people put in the ‘too hard’ or ‘too risky’ bucket. It’s the discovery of these answers that fosters disruption.
Innovators and entrepreneurs see things most people don’t. This is due to the coalescence of a number of different traits - passion, broad interests, curiosity and associational thinking to name just a few.
Entrepreneurs will be told they’re wrong or that what they’re working on is impossible by people who see the world differently. They will face many setbacks. They need to have self belief and strength to keep going when people say stop and to be able to filter good feedback from bad feedback along the way.
13: Flexible and Adaptable
They are also open to constructive criticism, customer feedback that invalidates their own ideas and changing the direction of an idea, despite having spent X amount of time on it.
Successfully commercialising a new disruptive venture is a marathon, not a sprint, littered with many hills, peaks, valleys and troughs. Mental and physical health is required to build something from the ground up. Being on your game not just today, but over a prolonged period of time, where oftentimes long days may be the order of the day, is critical.
Curious and passionate entrepreneurs don’t want to waste time - so they find ways to manage their time effectively. Look for to-do lists, prioritisation of tasks, automation of mundane and repeatable tasks, the use of productivity apps, understanding when they’re most effective at certain tasks and executing accordingly and limiting their time spent in email. These types of people will get a lot more done in a 7.5 hour workday than peers who just roll with the punches.
What else do you think makes a corporate innovator? Let me know in the comments below!