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The coffee king’s guide to intrapreneurship

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Published on: 
07 Feb 2017

As technology and globalisation disrupt traditional business models, innovation has become a key factor in driving growth. The ability to develop new products and services and adapt to changing markets is all important – however the challenge for most organisations is not the lack of ideas, but having the right people to put them into operation.

Step forward the intrapreneurs – the corporate innovators who can turn an idea into a profitable finished product. Through assertive risk-taking, intrapreneurs have the potential to transform their organisations. While the term was originally coined in the 1970s by Gifford Pinchot, in recent years the concept has captured the imagination of a new generation of managers.

"Intrapreneurship reflects the attitudes of many of our MBA candidates," says Libby Marshall, Associate Director of UQ Business School’s MBA program. "They may work within a large corporate or aim to do so, but they have an entrepreneurial approach and a strong sense of purpose. Rather than just moving steadily up the corporate ladder, they want to make an impact and thrive on solving problems and creating new ventures."

Coffee entrepreneur and UQ Business School Industry Partner Phillip Di Bella champions the value of intrapreneurs within organisations. Phillip’s approach to entrepreneurship was outlined in Allan Bonsall’s book Entrepreneurial Intelligence. He believes his four-part formula – vision, passion, brand and emotional intelligence – is equally relevant for would-be intrapreneurs too.

"It doesn’t matter whether you own a business, plan to start one or you work for somebody else, we all need to have an entrepreneurial mindset," says Phillip, who offers the following advice:

Set a vision
Intrapreneurs need "the ability to see a vision for the future and understand what the problems are going to be," says Phillip. A clear and compelling vision is more powerful than a goal. Bill Gates, for example, did not set out to sell software but wanted to see a computer in every home, while Henry Ford’s vision was to make cars accessible to all.

Incite your passion
If vision defines your purpose, passion is the force that drives you to achieve it, and it is this ability to put ideas into practice that distinguishes intrapreneurs from dreamers.

"Passion is resilience," says Phillip. "People with an entrepreneurial mindset have the ability to keep going and keep changing their strategy to ensure they succeed."

Build your own brand
For companies, a brand is a way to create an emotional connection with customers and build loyalty. For intrapreneurs, the meaning could be more personal, says Phillip. "I tell employees, don’t work for company brand, work for your own personal brand. People get attached to something they own, so they are more engaged."

Develop your EI
Emotional intelligence is the glue that binds the other three factors – vision, passion and brand - together. Powerful leaders have high levels of emotional intelligence. The good news for would-be intrapreneurs is that it is a skill that can be developed, and Phillip urges them to do so.

He defines EI as the ability to be conscious of your surroundings at all times, understand your own motivation and that of others, show empathy towards people, and put things into context. "Technology has taught people to switch off," says Phillip. "We have forgotten how to understand others’ motivation. If someone is having a go at you, ask yourself why they are doing so. If someone is changing the rules, consider why."

Learn from children
"To me the best entrepreneurs are kids," says Phillip. "Give them a toilet roll and they’ll come back with a telescope, give them a tissue box and they’ll make a doll’s house. They have a natural instinct to create their own resources. This type of imagination and creativity is what tomorrow’s leaders will need. Robots will not be able to do these things as well as humans."

"Imagination is the ability to look at a situation and see how things could be done differently or better. I look at things with a different set of lenses - peripheral vision, insight and foresight. No-one knows what challenges the future holds but if you combine all three, you are a lot closer to coming up with the answers."

"Creation is the ability to make things happen without being held back by a lack of resources. We can’t rely on governments to come up with the money, for example. When I started out, I had just $5,000 and had to use someone else’s equipment. These are the skills future leaders will need."

Work on weaknesses
Successful people form a habit of doing what other people are not prepared to do, such as working at weekends, says Phillip. However, we must be careful not to ignore our weak points. "People tend to work on their strengths, but unless we also work on weaknesses we are not improving ourselves. Instead of just reaching out to our customers, what about researching the ones that don’t engage with you?"

Communicate at every level
Poor communication is a common denominator in failure, says Phillip. "A restaurant might fail because they have not communicated with the audience and don’t understand what they want, or they haven’t communicated the offer in their marketing."

"We need to communicate with each other at every level - communicate with your team on how to get better and develop a strong culture, communicate with the audience and use them to help develop your product, and also let them know they are cared for."

With their creativity, self-motivation and pro-activity, intrapreneurs share the same traits as entrepreneurs and not surprisingly many go on to run their own company. As Phillip Di Bella says: "Entrepreneurial intelligence is not just the title of the book, it’s a way of life."

The coffee king’s guide to intrapreneurship

Rather than just climb the corporate ladder, intrapreneurs want to make an impact and thrive on solving problems and creating new ventures.