The Mindset of Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs

What do Intrapreneurs and Entrepreneurs have in common? The answer is: their attitude! Here are my learnings inspired by Malcolm Gladwell.

What does IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad have in common with Malcolm McLean, who revolutionized the global transportation of goods by introducing shipping containers in 1953?  Both think big and share the “10X” aspiration for returns on their investments (see also 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?).  But there is more: a shared mindset of entrepreneurs that also drives intrapreneurs within large organizations.

Just recently I had the pleasure hearing Malcolm Gladwell speak as a “Provocateur” at the World Of Business Ideas event in New York City’s epic Radio City Music Hall.  He illuminated the attitude of these against-all-odds entrepreneurs who succeeded and changed the world.  It struck me seeing significant parallels in the mindsets of entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs which I want to share with you.

Just as a bit of background, my work in recent years focuses on disruptive intrapreneuring, i.e. building frameworks to revitalize mature organizations from within and get break-through employee ideas implemented for exponential business outcomes.  In contrast to entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs are employees who build new businesses within their organization for the greater good of the company and, ultimately, it’s customers.

Entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs both pursue opportunity relentlessly and without regard to resources currently available to them. But there is even more commonalities relating to their attitude, their mindset, as Malcolm Gladwell puts it so eloquently, which goes beyond the traits of being

  • Open and creative to imagine the future in new ways.
    Here, associative thinking and a deeper understanding of subject matters helps to envision the future solution overall and implementing it with all its details.
  • Conscientious to focus on how to make it happen.
    This is the relentless drive, energy and experimentation to understand and being able to implement the many details necessary to turn the idea into reality and success despite mounting obstacles.
Beyond that, however, what constitutes the common mindset of successful entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs alike can be described by three things coming together in a game-changer’s mind:
  1. They are “disagreeable” in the sense of being indifferent to what others are think. They remain steadfast despite the rejection and immediate social consequences they may experience.
  2. They reframe the problem by elevating it from the current business model and practice to a higher level of abstraction.  They look at the problem broadly before condensing it to its pure core.  Once they got to the core of the problem, they map out the disruptive steps it takes to getting there without regard which industries are being affected and need to be disrupted.  Instead of thinking in industries, the thinking is more around an “arena” that constitutes the space and markets the new business will cover.
  3. They are impatient!  Driven by a sense of urgency they take action without hesitation.  There is no time to waste, they want to make the future happen now!
In the start-up world, entrepreneurs can turn to incubators and accelerators to get help developing their idea. Investors decide which entrepreneurial businesses are likely viable and should be funded.  The situation is different within large, mature organizations (see also:Why mature organizations can’t innovate).  It starts with the question where do you find these game-changing Intrapreneurs within an organization?  Often enough, intrapreneurs are not the “talent” that gets officially selected top-down and developed along a structure career development plan of sorts.  In all honesty, true intrapreneurs are disruptors by definition and can come come across a bit rough in the beginning – especially in a polished corporate environment.  Just look at the “disagreeable” criteria!  Not a quality you would find in a corporate leadership job description, right?

This is why it takes a dedicated effort to foster innovation through intrapreneurship in large and mature organizations.  Two programs I’ve spearheaded, the School for Intrapreneurs and Angel investing within the company, are tried and true approaches to building an innovation ecosystem.  Both produce outstanding results in a Fortune Global 500 and received best-practices credits in the international innovation study out of the University for Applied Sciences in Munich, Germany.

Contact me for more information or to design and implement an innovation and intrapreneuring in your organization!


One thought on “The Mindset of Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs”

  1. Nice article Stephan. I liked a few points, especially on the aspect of reframing the problem – this is a very subtle aspect that most of us tend to overlook.

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