Should intrapreneurs really ask for forgiveness and not permission?

Should intrapreneurs really ask for forgiveness and not permission?

GUEST POST from Arlen Meyers

Intrapreneurs are employees trying to act like entrepreneurs, i.e. pursuing opportunity in their organizations with scarce resources with the goal of creating user defined value through the deployment of innovation. Many run into a brick wall.

The intrapreneur’s Ten Commandments include:

  1. Remember, it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.
  2. Do any job that needs to make your project work, regardless of your job description.
  3. Come to work each day willing to be fired.
  4. Recruit a strong team.
  5. Ask for advice before resources.
  6. Forget pride of authorship, spread credit wisely
  7. When you bend the rules, keep the best interests of the company and its customers in mind.
  8. Honor your sponsors
  9. Underpromise and overdeliver
  10. Be true to your goals, but realistic about ways to achieve them.

We’ve heard #1 a lot and it has become part of the lore of intrapreneurship and organizational behavior. But, is it really a good idea? It depends, and here are some reasons why:

  1. Every organization, hospital and university has a culture of risk. Some cut you some slack. Some don’t.
  2. It depends on the risk involved. Andrew Gove of Intel advised to ask for foregiveness, but don’t drill holes below the water line.
  3. Sometimes, it ‘s better to keep what you are doing secret so as not to expose your idea too soon to the organizational immune system or people who are out to torpedo your success.
  4. It takes a while to get your idea ready for prime time and validate assumptions. Better to fail early and off the radar than flop big.
  5. Getting the resources you need will require imagination and political savvy. Sometimes that requires stealth and cunning.
  6. Most organizations have archaic systems for prioritizing innovation or a new product portfolio. Asking for permission just puts you in dysfunctional queue.
  7. Better to deliver your idea with as much value added as possible.
  8. You are not the only one with the responsibility of moving your idea forward. Think about your team members and sponsors who have their necks out too.
  9. One swallow does not a summer make. Even if you roll out a successful idea, people are going to want to know what you have done for them lately. Better to have a pipeline of products in development before launch. Platforms are more attractive than products.
  10. Building sustainability takes time and is sometimes done better off the radar. Once you have a successful internal venture, people will come to you to take credit.

Getting “escalated” is not pretty. Here are some ways to manage it.

There are two kinds of innovators. Permission seekers start with the rules, create ecosystems that conform to them, create business models that are new or different and that foster innovation. Forgiveness seekers, do the same, but in reverse. They use technologies that have reached a coherence tipping point to create business models and ecosystems and then drive to change the rules to allow them to scale.

There is a lot to recommend stealth innovation. Beware of making too much noise and make it low impact at the beginning. Don’t use words, like “center”, “institute” or “innovation” that are likely to mobilize hostiles with competing interests. Practice digipreneur guerilla tactics. Watch out for snipers.

Arming yourself with anti-radar technology is usually a smart move. However, if you get shot down over enemy territory it might be hard to find you and you will be placing your search and rescue team members in jeopardy. Think twice before flying over hostile territory without a survival plan.

Image credit: Pixabay

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About Arlen Meyers

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is an emeritus professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, an instructor at the University of Colorado-Denver Business School and cofounding President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at www.sopenet.org. Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ameyers/
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