I come from a family of successful entrepreneurs. As the eldest son, it would have been the easiest path for me to continue our family business like generations before me. After all, my siblings and I had learned the ropes of our family business since childhood. Our grandparents and parents taught us what it takes to be a savvy businessperson. Our business was part of the fabric of our daily life.
Thus, when I became enamored with the technology industry at university and decided to pursue a career at a large global IT corporation instead of running our family business, it was not an easy choice. At first, it felt like crossing a chasm from the very familiar entrepreneurial world to a more structured corporate world where more organizational management skills were required.
My grandfather, an astute and wise businessman, gave me three ingredients for success to guide my career path in the corporate world: nazar (foresight), jigar (toughness of character), and khabar (awareness). His wisdom has not only helped me pursue a successful career at SAP, but it also opened my eyes to entirely new possibilities: Driving technology and business innovation at a new scale by instilling the same entrepreneurial spirit and mindset to all employees within the corporation. We can create the best of both worlds by encouraging employees to think like an entrepreneur within the company.
Gifford Pinchot was credited to be the first to define the term intrapreneur, defining it as “dreamers who do. Those who take hands-on responsibility for creating innovation of any kind, within a business.” The American startup author Guy Kawasaki called the ability to innovate in large corporations the “art of intrapreneurship.”
The early approaches recommended to create a microcosm of intrapreneurs within the company, often purposely separated from the rest of the company so that the intrapreneurs can innovate without the limitations of existing corporate structures. “Find a separate building,” recommended Kawasaki in his 2006 blog post. “Ideally, it’s between 440 yards and one mile from the main corporate campus—that is, close enough to steal stuff but far enough so that management is seldom in your face.”
Those closed-door approaches have limitations. When confining intrapreneurs to a division, innovation cannot happen across the entire organization. You also put a cap on the organization’s innovation capital. In my experience, the better approach is to innovation is openness, making it part of the corporate culture. Every employee should be able to participate.
That’s where my grandfather’s wisdom comes in. Being entrepreneurial or intrapreneurial at a large corporation is not just about creativity or infusing new ideas. It is also about having the market insights, business acumen, and the ability to identify the right opportunity for new products and services or new markets. Having a group of intrapreneurs is good, but having an entire organization with an entrepreneurial mindset that uses nazar, jigar , and khabar is golden. It catapults a company’s ability to innovate to an unprecedented scale.
And there is more. Technology can help open up doors for employees to be entrepreneurial.
Here’s an example of how SAP Labs in India accelerated product innovation for the entire company. In 2016, the SAP Labs India team created a global crowdsourcing collaborative platform called SAP Blue. Using the crowdsourcing platform, employees could start sharing ideas for innovation projects and ask colleagues from across the company to contribute to the development of these projects. For employees, Blue is a tool to pursue their individual interests beyond their classic job description. It empowers them to share their creativity, expertise, and industry insights.
There is one caveat: To stay focused as a company, all ideas contribute to the overall goal and mission of SAP. The ability to share ideas and have ownership of innovation projects caught on like wildfire globally.
Another way we foster entrepreneurship is by connecting SAP employees with startup companies. As part of our SAP’s Startup Accelerator program, SAP employees have the opportunity to become mentors for startups and help these early-stage companies to go to market successfully—at true startup speed and within the economic constraints of a startup—by sharing their expertise in product development, marketing, finance, and operations.
Today intrapreneurship means opening the doors to entrepreneurial thinking to all employees. If you can achieve it globally at scale, you have truly mastered the art of intrapreneurship today.
For more lessons on entrepreneurial thinking, see Tim Ferris’ Top 5 Startup Lessons.