The Intrapreneur's Paradox: Told to fail, but fail to be told

The Intrapreneur’s Paradox: Told to fail, but fail to be told

There’s this new word that has permeated the American corporate zeitgeist lately and it’s the idea of the Intrapreneur, which can be defined as “a person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation”.  While a laudable idea, in practice it does not seem to have panned out.  As this survey by Accenture titled appropriately enough, “Corporate Innovation Is Within Reach: Nurturing and Enabling an Entrepreneurial Culture“, it outlines the pitiful reality that despite having 42% of corporate professionals surveyed proclaiming that management’s tolerance of failure was “very important” to fostering an entrepreneurial attitude within an organization, only 12% thought their own companies were good at that.

The major impediments to achieving intrapreneurship was outlined by both employees and managers in the following graphic:


In my view, the simplest reasons for this sorry state of affairs can be attributed to the following reasons:

  1. Large corporations are large and usually bureaucratic, and no matter how much they try to act and think like a small start-up they will always be large and bureaucratic.
  2. Though there are a plethora of people pursing advanced degrees like an MBA, many with an an actual emphasis on entrepreneurism, the reality is that most people want stability, safely and certainty which results in their need to stay within the safety net of a big company (which is pretty much a facade these days with the constant re-organizations and downsizing)
  3. I hate to say it, but the reality is that most failures that result in unforeseen opportunities within a large organizations is the result of serendipity rather than of purpose, and it usually just lip service for upper management to say they want you to take risks and fail.  Failures will usually result in negative consequences and consequences that are usually proportionally weighed by the size of the organization.  In other words, the larger the organization the larger the consequence of your failure!
  4. On the employee side, if you are a fixed-salary exempt employee (again the facade of safety), what’s your incentive to take risks if there are no upsides to your endeavor?  The real irony is that it is usually never stated what your reward, whether monetary or not, will be for succeeding and worse, whatever great ideas you come up with will be owned and appropriated by the organization.  As Homer Simpson would say, doh!

Is it all doom and gloom?  No!, for if you have been a regular reader of this website you would know that as a project manager you have been practicing intrapreneurship before the word ever intruded upon the American corporate vernacular.   If you are leading and managing projects in the truest sense, then you are the one granted money in the form of a project budget to add some “new product, service or results” using the familiar PMBOK-ian terms on behalf of the organization.


I don’t know about you, but as a former business owner this is as close as you can get to being a true entrepreneur within a large organization and is why I choose the project manager position when I went back to corporate America.  Of course the realities are that many project managers worked they’re way up, usually from a technical position shortly after graduation from a university to managing projects.  This results in them having become so institutionalized, compartmentalized and fossilized in their view of how work should get done, that they run their project contrary to the spirit of entrepreneurship that it most likely accounts for why so many projects fail!

Of course, if you truly have an entrepreneurial inkling and desire to break new boundaries and create new enterprises, then you will leave the safely net of a large organization and become a true projectpreneur!  This will not be easy, but nothing ever worthwhile is easy.  So if you are told to fail, watch for what you are failed to be told!

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