“Dreamers who do.”   – Gifford Pinchot III

The idea: The most successful disruptive thinkers and innovators operate under a different set of rules. They often create their own norms, transforming culture and anything in its surrounding area. The idea merchants of our time like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and Oracle’s Larry Ellison see the world with a third eye.  They think like designers, producers and artists; connecting new dots and asking questions others fail to see.

But on many people’s list of leadership influencers is someone with a noticeably different resume: an ex-blacksmith, ex-activist, and ex-academic, Gifford Pinchot III – grandson of former Pennsylvania governor and notable conservationist, Gifford Pinchot – is known for coining a term, “Intrapreneurship.”

What is Intrapreneuring?

“Intrapreneuring,” Pinchot says, “is the process of employees pursing innovation within the ranks of their own company, maneuvering the barriers of corporate bureaucracy and utilizing the influence and resources of a firm, unlike entrepreneurs.”

For Pinchot, intrapreneuring embraces ideals that are engrained in his philosophy and that go far beyond the shareholder. Intrapreneuring should be an integral part of any innovative organization and it stresses key values:

  • Having a culture that’s both sturdy, flexible and courageous
  • Facilitating purpose-driven innovation from within
  • Elevating the role and expectation of team members.

More than that, it’s a chance for folks to enact change within their firm, creating products, or services that are more sustainable and responsible.

Pinchot describes why holistic business matters:

“The idea that a leader is only responsible for a small number of folks (shareholders) is a relatively new one.  In the ’50’s, a CEO would say, ‘I’m about the well-being of my customers; I’m about the well-being of my employees; I’m about the well-being of the community that I live in.’

If we are training the next generation of business leaders, they ought to be trained with a broader sense of responsibilities than just contributions to shareholders.”

Does It Work?

Simply put, knowing how to create space for intrapreneurship is of high value today. Pinchot and his wife, Elizabeth, now run a consulting company that has served over half of the Fortune 100 in facilitating spaces for intrapreneurship.  With these firms, their team has inspired the creation of over 800 new products and businesses, and they’ve received tremendous support with their latest venture, the erection of the Bainbridge Graduate Institute which hosts the only MBA in “Sustainable Business” in America.

The key to intrapreneurship is having the right people on the right project with the right, wholesome goal in mind.  As hard as entrepreneurship may be, working on innovation within corporate bureaucracies requires resilience.  Pinchot says, “Often, great ideas are killed in the specification stage, and, if they survive that, then they are pulled apart in revision stage, but it requires people pushing their ideas through the whole process to make it come to life.”

Here’s how you can start building a space for intrapreneurship:

Ask the Right QuestionIf you aren’t doing so already, start asking your team if they have concerns about your product or company.  In other words, what’s broken, or what attribute is wasteful, clumsy, or no longer creating value?  Everybody on your team must be free to ask the hard questions.  And you must be strong enough to listen.

Incentivize IntrapreneurshipOne of Pinchot’s significant takeaways is that companies must incentivize a culture of innovation and intrapreneurship, while protecting team cohesiveness.  The highest performing teams recognizes and rewards collaboration and innovative thinking.  Everyone in the organization must think like an intrapreneur.  

Pinchot’s thinking pays off.  You can learn more about his writing and his next efforts at his website.

“Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up” – David Orr