For the last four years, I have dedicated my career to answering two questions:
The answer to the first question is clear. Employees have been, by far, the greatest contributors to society’s most impactful innovations … and there is no indication that will change. If you want to engage in work that inspires you, bring innovations to market, and impact the world, you don’t have to quit your job to make this happen. Doing so as an employee is a doable and attractive option.
As to the “how,” the answer begins with what I call “intent.” Many frustrated would-be internal entrepreneurs have lost the intent to innovate. They have been frustrated so many times, their ideas being batted down, that they have simply given up.
But if we look at those who succeed at driving innovations from within, we see that they direct their efforts in a particular way. By doing so, they are less likely to have their efforts rebuffed, have their innovations fail, or run out of steam along the way. Their impact, and the fun they have pursuing innovation, soars.
What is the trick?
Most of the 150+ internal entrepreneurs I interviewed for my most recent book, Driving Innovation from Within, talked about “knowing where to look” for innovation and searching for ideas that meet three types of needs:
To apply this framework, you want to brainstorm numerous potential areas in which to innovate, then sort out the ones that meet all three needs.
Most entrepreneurs start with market needs looking for “pain points” that customers complain about or areas in which the industry is broken. One pain point in pharmaceuticals, for example, is that people with multiple prescriptions have to make multiple trips to drugstores and often get confused with which pills to take when.
Recognizing this, a pharmacist named TJ Parker launched an innovative initiative from within his father’s pharmacy called PillPack, which delivers your prescriptions, in a roll of plastic “packs,” each with a date and time containing precisely the pills you needed to take. He sold it to Amazon last year for just under $1b.
While an entrepreneur can serve just one customer, an internal entrepreneurs serves two – their employer and the end user. Assessing market needs may lead to an idea that customers want, but if meeting this need does not also help your employer achieve a need it cares about, you can expect it to be rejected.
No good marketer would blame a customer for turning down her new product offering (she would instead seek to better understand her customers and change her offering accordingly). Similarly, successful internal entrepreneurs seek to more intimately understand what their organizations need.
In other words, to succeed, you want to understand your organization’s mission, goals, and priorities. Less than 55% of mid-level managers can name even two of their company’s strategic priorities (according to a study by researchers Donald Sull, Rebecca Homkes, and Charles Sull). Your efforts to innovate can go a long way by taking some simple steps to better understand your organizational needs.
When Kevin Systrom, the cofounder of Instagram, announced he would be leaving Facebook, which had acquired Instagram, to begin searching for a new business idea, he said, “Building new things requires that we step back, understand what inspires us and match that with what the world needs.”
To empower yourself with the stamina to see an innovation through the barriers it will inevitably face, pick an idea that not only meets your customers’ and organization’s needs, but also links to your passions or unique skills.
To apply this framework and rapidly and dramatically improve your chances of innovation success, take four steps:
Following these steps will help you seek innovations in more fertile ground, find a mission that makes a difference, inspires you, and that your organization will support. Ultimately helping you change the world without quitting your job.
Dr. Kaihan Krippendorff was elected to the Thinkers50 RADAR list as one of the 30 management thinkers to look out for in the coming and shortlists as one of the 8 most influential innovation experts in the world. He is a top business strategy, growth and transformation keynote speaker that has helped inspire, motivate, and arm hundreds of thousands of people with the tools and mindset needed to win the future. Having begun his career as a strategy consultant with McKinsey & Company, Dr. Krippendorff is now the founder of the growth strategy firm Outthinker and The Outthinker Strategy Network, a global community of heads of strategy of large corporations including Pfizer, CVS, QVC, Macmillan, BNY Mellon, and Viacom. His work has generated over $2.5B in new annual revenue.
Driving Innovation from Within: A Guide for Internal Entrepreneurs is available now on Amazon and other retail outlets.
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