Dr. Simone Ahuja on supporting your intrapraneurs

Dr. Simone Ahuja is the founder of Blood Orange, an innovation and strategy advisory firm. Headquartered in Minneapolis with global teams, Blood Orange has developed a fast and frugal innovation methodology that helps companies move from ideas to execution. This presentation was recorded at the Inside/Outside Innovation Summit in Lincoln, Nebraska. More videos from the 3-day conference can be found here.

Intrapraneurs are the change-agents of an organization. “Problem children”, some call them — but they mean well, often driven to develop a solution for a problem they’ve experienced personally. Dr. Simone Ahuja is the intrapraneur whisperer. She’s studied the motivations and progress of individual intrapraneurs — stories she shares in her presentation — and analyzed the corporate systems that best support their atypical business practices.

Learn about Simone’s research and advice in the full video recording and 2-part podcast appearance on the Inside/Outside Innovation show. Find her book, Jugaad Innovation, on her site.

Below are some notes taken from Simone’s presentation at the Inside/Outside Innovation Summit. Watch the original recording for much more insight.

From Simone’s Presentation:

  • Why are intrapraneurs important?
  • Why is intrapraneurship so hard to advance?
  • How do we support intrapraneurs?

Why are Intrapraneurs so Important?

Intrapraneurs can be a pain. It’s important to remember that their passion to solve new problems serves more than just short-term business objectives. At their best they’re driving sustainable growth. At their worst, they leave and become competitors.

Sustainable growth: Intrpraneurship grows innovation and innovation drives sustainable growth.

Urgency and speed: Intrapraneurship is an approach that helps us move faster.

Engagement: 14% of college grads want to work in large companies. How are we going to attract and retain them? Intrapraneurship can help address this, allowing people to follow their passions while staying connected to the end-users.

How to Identify Intrapraneurs

Corporations will solve problems by adding resources. This often kills the intrapraneurship, the innovation. Keeping it frugal with an asset-based mindset in the organization is extremely important. Often times, intrapraneurs don’t want the strings and oversight that come with big budgets.

“You know who they are.”, says Simone. But if you’re having a hard time identifying them, here are some characteristics to look out for:

Action-oriented: Not waiting for a top-down mandate.

Frugal: When you attach big budgets you get business-as-usually processes, fingerprints, and requirements. They’re operating without the budgets and accompanying strings.

Asset-based thinkers: Not thinking “what do I need?” but “what do I already have?”. They maximize value from existing knowledge, connections and ecosystems.

Enlisting others: They enroll others into their process, helping them understand why they’re solving a problem and why it’s important for them to stay involved.

Get messy: They can manage ambiguity. There are typically no processes in place for the kind of work that the intrapraneur wants to do.

Passion and purpose: This is at the center of effective intrapraneurship. Successful intrapraneurs are usually driven by issues that have touched them personally.


Why is Intrapraneurship so Hard to Advance?

They take risks developing solutions to problems the organization wasn’t already thinking about — what could go wrong? Simone finds these roadblocks holding them back:

People are scared: Will I punished for doing this?

Not a lot of support: Cultural or leadership.

Other Barriers: Politics, Legal (necessary and important and must be respected), and Risk-aversion

How To Support Intrapraneurs

At their worst, they leave and become competitors. How can an organization design systems to support intrapraneurial initiatives?

Keep It Frugal: Adding money attaches ownership and processes — not a good start.

Make it permission-less: Trust removes obstacles for the intrapraneurs.

Include core customers: Who’s involved in our problem solving process? Be all-inclusive.

Corporations will solve problems by adding resources. This often kills the intrapraneurship, the innovation. Keeping it frugal with an asset-based mindset in the organization is extremely important. Often times, intrapraneurs don’t want the strings and oversight that come with big budgets.

Keep it fluid: Navigate the organization in new ways.

Value ROI: Return on Intelligence. “Nobody wants to be associated with failure. Reframe it as learning and make it a currency in your organization.”

Igniting their Passion and Purpose: An intrapraneur’s passion is one of the greatest catalysts of innovation.

Tide Spin at P&G

Tide Spin is an internal startup at Proctor & Gamble. After pitching to and getting approval from leadership, the founding team built a “good enough” model — “you can’t have a perfect model if you’re trying to learn your way forward”, says Simone. Their story is a good example of a passionate team leveraging existing resources inside of a company. Tide Spin’s COO, Nirav Amin, also spoke at the Inside/Outside Innovation Summit. He presented on their experience as an internal startup at P&G in this video presentation.

Simone in Harvard Business Review: What It Takes to Innovate Within Large Organizations

For more on “Enabling Intrapraneurs” see these episodes of the Inside/Outside Innovation Podcast:

Ep. 45 Michael Docherty and the Lone Wolf Innovator

Ep. 10 Amee Mungo from Capital One

Ep. 7 Daniele Dondi from ING (2-part episode)

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