Champions of Change

Intrapreneurs are starters who champion change inside established companies.

These skilled and determined people are often salaried employees who want to enjoy their job more. They do this by reinventing how they work at a company they trust. While intrapreneurs shake things up in more controlled environments, they share a similar innovative spirit with entrepreneurs building their own company. They challenge the status quo for larger companies smart enough to listen.

Companies that recognize the value of intrapreneurship stay ahead of the market. They do so by not falling too far behind the innovation curve. Smart companies go further by emboldening intrapreneurs. They do so with trust, resources, and a culture that encourages their passionate employees to get weird.

This sounds cool, but there’s a lot of moving parts when steering a cruise ship (large companies) compared to a little speed boat (startups). Add the fact that no matter how big a company is, change is hard, everyone fears it, and advocating for change is more difficult with more branches on the decision tree. As if it’s not complex enough, new ideas will always feel risky to those in power as well. This makes climbing the ladder of progress painfully slow and poses a quagmire for intrapreneurs: constant oversight and a lack of action can lead to burnout.

Intrapreneurial burnout usually translates into employees leaving the company or choosing to play it safe. When conformity sets in, intrapreneurs lose their edge and misinterpret the market. To avoid this hazard, intrapreneurs must keep making a ruckus and companies must help preserve innovative vibes by motivating intrapreneurs with action.

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Big, small, old, and new businesses can all do more when the people they trust find fresh ways to collaborate throughout the community.

Shifting the perspective, it’s good for entrepreneurs when more inspired intrapreneurs are connected throughout an ecosystem, but collaboration with intrapreneurs requires a long-term approach.

One reason is that intrapreneurs can be hard to identify within a startup community. Many intrapreneurs are also quick to say they’re not entrepreneurial, which makes it even harder to uncover these hidden leaders. If you’re a founder able to connect with these unicorns in the balloon factory, be quick to encourage their fresh ideas. Show interest in their latest innovation and invite them to where other entrepreneurs are gathering. Everyone is entrepreneurial to some degree, so the more intrapreneurs feel innovative energy, the more they’ll participate within the community.

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Are you an intrapreneur? If you shake things up and fuel positive change in an existing organization, You Don’t Need This Book is as much for you as it is for students, side hustle enthusiasts, or entrepreneurs building new companies. Another interesting read is Free Prize Inside by Seth Godin. There’s an entire section focused on championing new ideas into existing companies.

Entrepreneurs need intrapreneurs, and intrapreneurs need entrepreneurs. Intrapreneurs stay innovative by learning from entrepreneurs who are building what’s next. In exchange, intrapreneurs offer entrepreneurs established wisdom and access to customers. Intrapreneurs may not always be the decision makers, but they can still share resources, feedback, and meaningful introductions. This elevates entrepreneurs and fuels more profitable initiatives led by intrapreneurs.

Such shared momentum translates into existing companies getting more excited by profitable progress and often converts to an increase in their company’s community involvement. Companies become more willing to reinvest in intrapreneurship and ongoing innovation is liberated by an entrepreneurial mindset. As more existing companies thicken their connectivity within the startup community and entrepreneurial ecosystem, more ways to collaborate will emerge. Over time, the rising tide of intrapreneurial and entrepreneurial activity compounds into community-driven partnerships that raises all ships through layered economic growth.

The Idea Machine

Ideas that you can wrap a business around do not come naturally for everyone. If you’re struggling to generate realistic ideas, you must first learn how to flex your mind. With practice, you’ll soon be firing good, bad, big, small, crazy, and enlightened ideas into the world. You’ll end up with plenty to choose from and even more to give others. In fact, as you become an idea machine, the hard part will be deciding which ideas to execute around. Let’s hit the gym.

If you don’t know where to start, here’s a simple exercise that will train your brain to become an idea machine. Pick up a pocket-sized notebook that inspires you to write within it the moment you think of an idea. Every day, write five ideas in this small notebook. No less, but more is fine. See how long you can maintain this daily activity. After only a few days, you will have transformed it into a personal idea book.

The ideas need not be world changing; the important part is to write them down the moment they spark. It’s tempting to use technology, like an app on your phone, but pen on paper provides freedom to practice in more creative ways. Go old school and give yourself the blank canvas needed to explore any type of idea. As you thicken your idea book, don’t worry about how good or bad each idea is. Dump them on the page and focus your energy on maintaining the daily habit. If you need a few extra ideas to achieve your daily goal, spend a focused moment to think and jot them all down at once. No matter how you reach your daily goal, the momentum of your consistency will soon surprise you. The longer you maintain this daily routine, the more you’ll feel your mind flexing in new ways.

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With these physical notebooks, I must warn you to check your pockets before you do laundry. I once had a solid idea book that went through the wash. I was able to transfer some of the thoughts into a new idea book, but there was still a sense of loss. Having space to scribble is key, but it’s smart to back things up digitally as well.

You can also add wrinkles of complexity to continue challenging yourself. Focus on a theme. To give this a try, think about ideas for a specific person, product, service or market and imagine ways to improve it.

The pure quantity of ideas you’ll amass will result in many worth forgetting. That’s the point. Amongst all the clutter, you’ll find yourself returning to a few sharp ideas. These are the treasures to spend more time exploring.

This sounds easy, but like working out after a New Year’s resolution, it’s easy to burn out. Here’s what will happen. You’ll track some ideas for a week. Soon after, you’ll start mentally sidelining ideas. You’ll document them all at once for a few more days to maintain your streak. This will feel efficient, but then you’ll miss a day or two. Before you know it, your idea book sits on the shelf collecting dust. When this happens, don’t be hard on yourself. Even a little time committed to this exercise can spark a more creative mindset.

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It’s crazy how quickly the mental effects are felt from this simple exercise. Whenever I activate this practice, I love how the abundance of ideas lead to things I can share with fellow founders.

Personal Bandwidth

New projects make work invigorating and it’s fun building things we care about. When we’re all able to do so much more with less in our connected era, the danger becomes how easy it is to spread yourself too thin. If you seek to unlock the boundless energy from a balanced career portfolio, it’s critical to keep an eye on your personal bandwidth.

To make it easy, visualize all the work you do as a dynamic pie chart. Each project you’re involved with represents one slice. It’s not an exact science, but the more time, money and energy you spend on something, the larger that slice becomes. Let’s call this your career portfolio.

Most of us can manage multiple slices of activity within our career portfolio. For example, a traditional, salaried position may be the lion share, but there’s still room for that innovative idea at your company, a little side hustle, the volunteer role and mentoring a few other entrepreneurs. No matter what makes up the complete pie chart, stay mindful of the coevolving sizes of each slice and how everything interacts within the overall system.

Saying yes or no to new projects should obviously be carefully considered. As you make these decisions, be honest with the resources required to continue building on each front. The time you spend on one thing can’t be spent on others, but positive force in one area often fuels fresh energy (and clarity if it’s time to quit) for other areas of your career portfolio. When different projects are in the same realm, synergies may be easier to compound, but sometimes having projects in completely different industries provides stabilizing diversification.

Beyond the obvious impact of adding or removing elements within your career portfolio, how resources are spent on existing areas of your career portfolio should feel strategic. Think about how much time is being spent compared to the income that’s being produced. There are other factors to consider too, as we know it’s not all about the money. Reflect on the type of energy each project generates. Who do you get to work with and how does the work make you feel overall? Hobbies that pay just enough to break even, leading a group of people you care about or volunteering to become a mentor are all wonderful examples of satisfying additions that don’t pay the bills.

Have something that’s dragging you in the wrong direction? It’s hard to revive old projects, but don’t be afraid to put things on the back burner. That said, if it is time to quit, read The Dip by Seth Godin, then decide if and when to make your move. Winners quit all the time, they just quit the right things at the right time.

That last sentence reveals one more important variable: good timing. When you activate new projects, adjust resources or quit something to make space for what’s next, good timing will provide a noticeable blend of confidence and tranquility. This state of mind will allow your work to make a bigger impact. To give yourself room to find good timing, remember entrepreneurship is not a race. Urgency is helpful because it creates valuable momentum, but stay patient knowing that persistence is the ultimate wild card.

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I once had a boss tell me I could never catch two rabbits. That’s outdated. With a balanced career portfolio and the support of those around you, we’re all able to catch more proverbial rabbits without diluting ourselves to mediocrity. Learn to efficiently activate different energies, on different projects, with different people, at different times, that all connect through you.

The Headline Trap

Reducing barriers to entrepreneurship allows more people to feel inspired by their work. There are many common barriers to entrepreneurship. As I’ve worked with students, new entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs working inside existing companies, I’ve noticed a self-limiting ideology we can call The Headline Trap.

The Headline Trap is an emotional barrier that can subconsciously make people think their own entrepreneurial abilities don’t warrant action. It festers from the deception that business ventures must “go big” or make a bunch of cash to positively impact one’s career portfolio.

This is no surprise. Successful startup stories are celebrated loudly. These spotlights are well deserved and celebrating entrepreneurs is important, but you don’t have to build something crazy to feel the innovative energy of entrepreneurship.

Everyone has a product or new initiative they’ve thought about exploring. Yes, building a business that impacts a lot of people is absolutely possible, but we’re all invited to tinker. Side hustles, community building, volunteerism and innovative projects that intrapreneurs spark inside existing companies all represent entrepreneurial efforts that should be celebrated.

Need someone to bounce ideas off of? Let’s have coffee.

Any project you care about generates genuine energy. This energy is commonly referred to as passion. The beauty of passion is that it leads to persistence. As you find ways to create joy, you’ll savor the project longer. Even if you’re not making a profit (yet), you can still be inspired by the process. This inspiration often transcends into other areas of your career portfolio as well. In fact, sometimes an entrepreneurial venture is less about the money and more about the opportunity to collaborate with others. Working with people you enjoy being around is a treat and finding trusted partners with complimenting skill sets is the trick to make things even more interesting.

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Building a business with less concern about revenue can provide a sense of peace, but beware, the luxury of not needing something to work can lead to crippling procrastination. Maintain transparency with everyone’s commitment levels to avoid tension.

Even when a project is only a tiny sliver of your career portfolio (we’ll talk more about managing your career portfolio next week), curiosity is being triggered. Not everyone will identify these actions as entrepreneurial, but innovative energy is being activated. Whether a project works or not, the entrepreneurial spirit gets bolder with time and often leads to more innovative initiatives in the future.

This type of personal growth also creates expanded interest in the startup and small business community. At the community level, entrepreneurial ecosystem builders can help people avoid The Headline Trap by recognizing, encouraging and celebrating projects that don’t make the news. This benefits everyone when more passionate people are invited to plug in. As more curious people are connected throughout the entrepreneurial ecosystem, take the opportunity to be radically inclusive to fuel a more diverse, flexible and sustainable environment.