How Canada can keep cultivating intrapreneurs

Guy Kawasaki discusses the biggest stumbling block to fostering the entrepreneurial mindset within companies

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intrapreneurship technology professionals

Thinking back on all the IT professionals I’ve been supported by over the years only one stands out as exceptional. It wasn’t his zany personality or his witty sense of humour, but rather his innovative approach to problem solving and prickly personalities.  He took ownership of the problems flung at him – regardless of whether they were born from legitimate beefs – and offered creative and effective solutions.

We didn’t have a name for what he was doing back then, but today we would call this guy an intrapreneur. He was a motivated, independent thinker who challenged the status quo to move both his user base and the company forward.

According to a recent global survey from Regus, a leading supplier of flexible workspaces, both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are on the rise in Canada.  Canadian businesses looking to crush their competition are fostering entrepreneurial attitudes inside the company to ensure they remain on the leading edge of innovation.

What’s the most effective way to encourage innovation and the development of intrapreneurs? Almost half (48 percent) of survey respondents report that flexibility over working time and location are key to keeping the creative juices flowing. Skills updating can also trigger the intrapreneurial response, according to 42 percent of respondents.  More than one-quarter (28 percent) of respondents cited access to senior management as an important element of intrapreneurial success, according to the report, titled “Entrepreneurship: Flourishing in Tough Conditions.” Mixing staff from different job functions was also flagged by more than one-third (36 percent) of those surveyed as a means of cultivating fertile ground in which intrapreneurs can flourish.

When it comes to staff mixers, however, Guy Kawasaki cautions that timing is important, especially in projects such as creating new products.

For probably a year, most of the function that’s needed is product development. For that year, cross-functional support isn’t key,” says Kawasaki, former chief evangelist of Apple and current chief evangelist of Canva, an online design tool. “Once there’s at least a prototype, it’s good to have broad internal exposure.”

He adds that the biggest stumbling block to cultivating an intrapreneurial mindset is a corporation’s relentless focus on short-term financial gain.

“The biggest stumbling block is the desire for near-term revenue, which most intrapreneurial ventures cannot deliver. In fact, they will reduce profits in the near term.”

Walter Frick, associate editor at Harvard Business Review, echoes that sentiment in a column that explores Google’s innovation philosophy. He references an article by Bala Iyer and Tom Davenport, which points to patience as a critical factor to innovation.

“Not just a long-term outlook, but the investment that goes with it to set up the infrastructure — technical and managerial — that makes innovation possible.”

In an initiative that brought together a team of global employees to work on an unapproved corporate strategy, EMC Fellow and high-tech inventor Steve Todd cited relinquishing authority as a key factor to encouraging the team to exercise their innovation muscles.

“I have found that ceding authority and encouraging employee autonomy go hand-in-hand. Turning the execution of that corporate strategy over to my global team of volunteers was one of the best moves I could make.”

Image courtesy of iosphere at

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