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Home arrow Management arrow Strategic Management in the 21st Century. The Operational Environment


In many ways, the successful entrepreneur embodies the popular vision and manifestation of business success in today's world. The entrepreneurially savvy individual starts a new venture from scratch, secures the required resources, and builds it into a sustainable business venture. Of course, this takes a tremendous amount of vision, innovation, and dedication. It has been well documented in both the literature and popular press that the process of entrepreneurship is ridden with peril and tangible risk. Sadly, many entrepreneurial start-ups end up in commercial demise. Unsurprisingly, not everyone aspires to become an entrepreneur. Moreover, although there are probably tens of millions of potential entrepreneurs in the United States alone, most people simply are not in a position to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams and ideas for a variety of reasons, including financial constraints, family concerns, and others.26

The values and aspirations of the ambitious entrepreneur are not confined to new start-ups. The goals and rewards of the entrepreneurially minded person are in fact realizable within the confines of existing organizations. The intrapreneur, also known as the internal entrepreneur or corporate entrepreneur, has become increasingly recognized for his or her capacity to act as a catalyst to build and add value to the organization's overall performance and success.27

The term intrapreneur first appeared in a research paper by U.S. management consultants and authors Gifford and Elisabeth Pinchot in 1978 and entered into the American Heritage Dictionary in 1992. An intrapreneur has been defined as:

A person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation.28

The advent, definition, and conceptualization of the concept of intrapreneurship were products of commercial developments of the late 20th century. This era was dominated by large corporations bloated with extraneous employees, heavy on hierarchy and hierarchical layers, burdened by slow communication systems, and stifled by a rigid interface between the organizations and their many stakeholders. Indeed, it was in the late 20th century and the early days of the 21st century, where revolutions in technology and communication unfolded, which in turn have affected markets and entire societies. As a direct consequence, organizations have become fluid, actions instantaneous, and change discontinuous and unrelenting.

In the midst of all these unveiling changes, firms rely heavily on their ongoing innovative capabilities for vitality and success. Clearly, it is now widely understood that information is ubiquitous, ideas are pervasive, and most resources are readily available. This combination, presenting both challenges and opportunities for firms and employees, may in fact constitute the beginning of a new age of entrepreneurship: the rise of the intrapreneur.

Intrapreneurship mobilizes individuals within organizations to put their passion, creativity, innovative capacity, and talents into play in order to maximize their creative potential and achievements. Firms are forced to foster an environment where an intrapreneurial mindset among employees can develop and thrive. It has been reported that such attempts yield increased levels of employee motivation, engagement, and retention, as well as heightened innovation ultimately leading to the development of a competitive edge. Although there are legitimate concerns for both employers and employees, including the fear of unrelenting change and the risk of losing valuable resources, yet in this day and age, developing and empowering intrapreneurially minded people is critical to the ongoing success, relevance, and triumph of any organization.

So, how can a culture of intrapreneurship within firms be attained? First and foremost, the intrapreneur does not need an assigned intrapreneurial role by the firm. The intrapreneur needs to empower himself or herself to create his or her own "enriched" role for the betterment and sake of the organization. Second, intrapreneurship can be found in any organization; for-profit and not-for-profit, small and large, local and global, mainstream and niche, private and public, as well as in all industries and government-owned agencies. Third, intrapreneurship is not confined to the development of new processes, products, and services. Intrapreneurial behavior on the part of an employee permeates all organizational facets and includes improving efficiencies, developing new markets, and taking existing products and services to new heights.

Examples of Intrapreneurial Activities

A number of firms have reaped deep admiration, fame, and prominence for cultivating internal intrapreneurial cultures that promote individual and organization innovation. A well-cited example of the power of intrapreneurial innovation is the well-known Skunk Works group at Lockheed Martin. This group, originally named after a reference in a cartoon, was first assembled in 1943 in order to build the P-80 fighter jet. The project was secretive and internally protected since it was to become part of the United States' war efforts.29

At 3M, formerly known as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, employees are allowed to spend up to 15 percent of their working time on projects for the advancement of the firm. Based on the initial success of this practice, 3M has since introduced a $3 million in-house intrapreneurial program to fund projects that may not necessarily attract funding through ordinary channels. These so-called "Genesis" grants offer up to $85,000 to selected innovators to carry forward their projects.30

A number of technology firms have a strong culture of innovation and in-house development. Prominent examples include Hewlett-Packard (HP), Microsoft, Intel, Oracle, and Google. The last-named has been recognized frequently for permitting its employees to spend up to 20 percent of their time pursuing in-house innovation and intrapreneurial activities.31

A classic example of intrapreneurially minded individuals and their subsequent successes is found in the ascent of John Warnock and Charles Geschke, formerly employees at Xerox. Frustrated with the rigidity of the Xerox culture and disenchanted with the lack of support for their innovative ideas, Warnock and Geschke both resigned from Xerox as employees and launched Adobe Systems, which is now an S&P 500 firm with revenues close to $4 billion.32

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