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PHOTO CREDIT: S9 Architecture, Camp North End, Charlotte

MARKET LIFE: How to be an Intrapreneur

By Dr. Don Capener

Is it possible to simultaneously innovate and remain in a corporate job?

In the 2011 edition of his bestselling book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, Harvard professor Clayton Christensen claims the characteristics that make executives successful over the long run are often the polar opposite of the skills, attitude, and focus needed to start or re-invent a company. He goes so far as saying that the skills needed by a successful manager can be the opposite to those needed by the entrepreneur who innovates and seeks changes within a company or industry.

While the perfect hybrid of traditional manager and cutting-edge entrepreneur Christensen describes may not be possible in the same person, there is something very close. It’s what we call an intrapreneur. The intrapreneur has the ability to combine people-management skills, political acumen, and analytical abilities with all the passion of an entrepreneur–plus industry know-how and a network of people and skills readily available.

A few obstacles that are the “domain” of an intrapreneur…

  • Launching a new product in an environment that values the status quo.
  • Reducing corporate bureaucracy or policy that inhibits creativity.
  • Innovating or inviting failure that produces customer or client insights.
  • Identifying profitability targets focused on long-term sustainability.
  • Discovering cost-cutting initiatives that don’t detract from the product mix.
  • Investing in incremental research and development.
  • Implementing shorter product life cycles.
  • Exploring finance and time accounting reports/controls for products and personnel.
  • Using open book accounting.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, an old Ford Model T factory and army missile manufacturing facility is being transformed into Camp North End, the city’s newest hub for business innovation.

Similarly, working on your intrapreneur skills is transformational for your career. It’s the first step to being more creative and innovative by starting right where you are. First, decide how best to practice your skills and passion for further creativity and innovation. Understand that you don’t have to leave your current position and go out on your own as an entrepreneur right away.

Jacksonville University Davis College of Business students

My suggestion for future entrepreneurs in the month of December: take your entrepreneurial passion to the next level by practicing being an intrapreneur. Being a successful intrapreneur can give you the confidence to eventually go out on your own.

For example, I worked for FCB-NY Advertising for two years trying my skills in marketing consulting and it provided the foundation I needed to launch my own advertising agency in Southern California. The two years of practice was invaluable in helping me learn how to plan, organize, and execute advertising.

Intraprenuers may even forget that they work for a large company if they are practicing the skills in the bulleted list above. I highly recommend you start thinking and acting like an intraprenuer and watch your career elevate.

Dr. Don Capener, Dean of the Jacksonville University Davis College of Business

MARKET LIFE is a recurring feature in WAVE, a dedicated news source at Jacksonville University. E-mail commentary and questions about market and money matters to Dr. Don Capener, Dean of the Davis College of Business at Jacksonville University, at dcapene@ju.edu. Or read the latest from Dean Capener’s desk on LinkedIn.