Discover eight dynamic principles to help innovation flourish from within.
The shelf life of well-established companies keeps shrinking as new entrants replace old ones in rapid succession. Even brands that seemed invincible only a few years ago are in danger of being disrupted by fast-moving startups. In this unprecedented environment, how can any business stay ahead of the market?
Companies can no longer assume innovation will “just happen”—it must be seeded, grown, and successfully harvested. They must disrupt themselves.
In Disrupt-It-Yourself, bestselling author and innovation expert Simone Ahuja guides readers through the DIY (Disrupt-It-Yourself) system that will sustain innovation and retain DIYers, the employees—or intrapreneurs—most committed to solving the problems of the future, even if it means moving far beyond “business as usual.”
Based on her experience working with Fortune 500 companies and extensive research, Ahuja identifies the intrapreneurial archetype and presents eight new principles to foster a DIY mindset and action plan. In a clear, concise style with expert advice and real-world examples, this book
- provides a new lens to help companies become faster and more fluid,
- offers easy options to tailor the system to each company’s unique circumstances, and
- presents strategic lessons—from Keep It Frugal to Make It Permission-less—that open up the full spectrum of innovation and make it sustainable.
Using the DIY approach, organizations can build their ability to innovate and create an approach for growth that harnesses the creativity and knowledge of employees at every level.
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About the Author
Simone Ahuja is the founder of Blood Orange, an innovation strategy advisory group with expertise in disruptive innovation, jugaad (frugal) innovation, emerging markets, and intrapreneurship. Her clients include companies such as 3M, Procter & Gamble, Target Corporation, Stanley Black & Decker, UnitedHealth Group, and Medtronic. She is a contributor to the Harvard Business Review online and is the coauthor of Jugaad Innovation,a #1 international bestseller. Simone is a highly sought-after keynote speaker in the fields of innovation, creativity, leadership, and change in the business environment. She is most often based out of Minneapolis, USA.
Read an Excerpt
Navy SEALs, Not Pirates: Meet the DIY Disrupters
"This stuff makes my skin look like chalk." That was thirteen-year-old Balanda Atis's immediate reaction when she looked at herself in the mirror.
Trying on makeup is a rite of passage for many teenage girls, and that made it all the more disappointing for Atis when she applied liquid foundation for the first time and found the results unimpressive. Cosmetics companies, it turned out, didn't make shades that suited her skin tone. Atis and her Haitian American friends in East Orange, New Jersey, found that liquid and powder foundations had an unattractive, ashy-white effect on their darker skin. It was a problem regardless of brand, formula, or product — until Atis set her sights on solving it.
When Atis joined L'Oréal USA as a chemist in 1999, she was formulating mascara, but the foundation issue weighed on her mind. In 2006, when the company launched a new line of foundations intended to address a wider variety of skin tones, Atis saw that they still didn't measure up. It lit a fire under her. She informed the head of L'Oréal's makeup division, who challenged her to come up with a solution. Atis began to work on the problem as a side project. In short order she enlisted two other scientists at L'Oréal to join her cause.
Although Atis and her colleagues were not freed from doing their day jobs, L'Oréal gave the trio access to a lab. Fueled by passion and purpose, they produced and tested foundation samples on their own time. Lacking opportunities for data collection, they tagged along on trips to existing conferences and fairs across the country, collecting skin tone measurements from thousands of women of color. The big breakthrough came when Atis discovered they could work with an existing color compound. Ultramarine blue was seldom used in cosmetics and difficult to work with, but it allowed them to create richer, deeper shades without the muddy finish that was so common in existing darker foundations. Atis and her tiny team succeeded in satisfying a massive customer need that had existed for generations.
Atis is what the business world has come to recognize as an intrapreneur. Gifford Pinchot III coined the term back in the late 1970s when he wrote about the growing number of corporate employees behaving like entrepreneurs. He even envisioned a new kind of commercial enterprise —" something akin to free market entrepreneurship within the corporate organization" — and a new way of doing business that "would be a social invention of considerable importance, both for the individuals in it, and for the productivity and responsivity of the corporation."
One of Pinchot's favorite examples, and mine, is Art Fry, the 3M employee who famously invented Post-it Notes. When Fry "was told by the marketing division his idea wasn't wanted by customers, he did his own market research," Pinchot wrote. "When manufacturing told him his Post-It Notes were impossible to make, even though he worked in the lab, he worked out the production technology himself and, in blatant disregard of the rules, borrowed and re-engineered a 3M production line at night to prove his process would work. No problem, no matter how far from his supposed area of expertise as a lab person, fell outside his responsibility." Pinchot's summation that "the intrapreneur is the general manager of a new idea that doesn't yet exist" also sounds like an apt description of Balanda Atis.
But Atis and others like her today are also different from the intrapreneurs of decades ago. They're more diverse in their skill sets and backgrounds, more digitally native, more networked and connected, and more ambitious to do bigger things — and they are increasingly supported by the emerging function of innovation within large organizations. Art Fry and the intrapreneurs Pinchot identified were products of long careers in their employers' organizations, and they had significant credibility and even some resources at their command. But the whole point of coining the term intrapreneur was to stress that there are people outside the corner office who could bring about valuable change.
Fast-forward a few decades and the democratizing trend has continued to the point where intrapreneurs can be found deeper in the ranks of organizations, pursuing high-impact ideas and making serious headway, often with collaborators they've enlisted on their own, and at times even within innovation systems created by their organizations. Compare that to the past, when a lone engineer or solo creative might have tinkered with a solution after hours, trying to keep it under wraps until it was perfected. In the old model, this person's efforts were rarely encouraged by management, much less planned or accounted for as part of the organization's official research and development agenda.
Now the reality in many firms is quite different. Today employees with varied skill sets and backgrounds work in fluid, multifunctional teams, attracting positive attention and pursuing breakthroughs that are aligned with their organizations' innovation priorities. And the most innovative firms deeply understand the need to create space and add light structure to accelerate their efforts.
It is tempting to want to give people like Balanda Atis a new name. I like to call them DIYers. We could also say they are "corporate hackers," to underline their talent of tapping into and around the bureaucratic machinery surrounding them to advance their projects. Or we could call them "constructive disrupters," since today's intrapreneurs often don't stop at trying to tweak the performance of the existing business. Sometimes they seriously challenge it, from product offering to business model, yet they do it actively from the inside and, by doing this, help keep the enterprise viable.
Whatever we call them, companies need more intrapreneurs, and their DIY initiatives, to succeed. Innovation is a clear driver of growth in today's complex and fast-moving markets. With that in mind, it makes sense to understand just who these people are, how they work, and what makes them tick.
The New Intrapreneurs Are DIYers
If Art Fry was the prototypical intrapreneur of the 1970s, and Balanda Atis represents the twenty-firstcentury DIY approach to intrapreneurship, what has fundamentally changed?
The Intrapreneurial Archetype
If you could hire a hundred Balandas tomorrow, you would do it, right? What better move could you make to ensure your company's relevance in the future? We've already heard the stats and predictions about how vulnerable today's largest and most longstanding companies are. And as fund managers like to put it, their past performance is no guarantee of future results. Highfliers routinely end up crashing down to earth. So if you don't want your business to join the countless others already consigned to the dustbin of history, at some point you'll have to disrupt it yourself — and your best chance of doing that is to grow, develop, and support your ranks of intrapreneurs.
Unfortunately, you probably couldn't hire those hundred Balandas if you tried — not because these talented disrupters wouldn't work for your company but because it's hard to find them in the labor market. There are no job titles or specific functional areas reserved for people who spot opportunities and jump on them. It's tough for the HR department, or software tools scanning applications, to zero in on the résumé line that shows whether someone thinks like an entrepreneur. And it can be challenging to spot the intrapreneurs who are already sitting inside your organization. They're definitely there, some of them making progress on side hustles no one even knows about, and many more of them with valuable ideas they would like to pursue.
Is it possible that there is nothing remarkable about intrapreneurs as individuals — that most of us, with enough encouragement and confidence, could succeed in challenging the status quo? That's a key message, for example, of Adam Grant's recent bestseller, Originals, and I couldn't agree more with his goal to create more creatives. But as most knowledge workers look across their workplaces, they don't see a landscape densely populated by mavericks. Intrapreneurs are still relatively rare, distinguished by both who they are and what they do. So, if we did list the job qualifications for the intrapreneurs, the innovators you would want on the inside of your organization, it would look like this:
Action obsessed. Forward-thinking and optimistic, intrapreneurs are energized by what hasn't been done before. Think of Balanda Atis, undeterred by the fact that a global industry with all its resources had not solved the problem she saw. She forged ahead anyway, finding partners, doing the science, cultivating a community of internal supporters, and generally taking every step in her power to pursue her idea with passion.
Progress focused. Intrapreneurs are impatient with systems that put the brakes on progress. Dakota Crow, an experienced innovation leader who is currently VP of Innovation and director of the Innovator-inResidence program at US bank, told me about the frustration people feel when their momentum is blocked by well-intentioned managers adhering to process: "If you're pushing on a product or idea and you've got enough validation to move forward, stopping is like someone saying, 'Wait — pull the car over. We've got to change the tires.' You're like, 'I've got plenty of tread!'" The next words out of his mouth could have been uttered by any one of the intrapreneurs I've met: "I'm just not a fan of process for the sake of process."
Problem oriented. Despite their bias for action, intrapreneurs don't accept the first solution they arrive at just to be done with the job. They go through iterations working the problem, attacking it from different angles, and challenging the assumptions that might constrain their thinking. A favorite phrase of Intuit leaders comes to mind: the most creative people "fall in love with the problem, not the solution." Intrapreneurs understand that there are typically multiple answers to every problem and many paths to any solution. They are learners, scanning all sources for information that can advance their progress.
Natural hackers. In software, hackers love the intellectual challenge of confronting a system designed to do certain things and cleverly exploiting it to achieve something different. Likewise, intrapreneurs overcome the limitations of an organization by bending its strengths to their will. A senior marketing manager at an American candy manufacturer is a fountain of new product ideas in need of customer validation. Yet customers are often treated like a protected species by those who "own" these relationships — sometimes they are completely off-limits. So this intrapreneurial manager hacked a simple solution. "An organization with several thousand employees has access to at least several thousand consumers," he surmised. (Especially an organization that creates and distributes candy.) On any given day, he can walk around and get a "semi-outsider" perspective on new ideas by inviting feedback from employees. He hacked a good solution to what otherwise is a stubborn problem.
Talent attractors. Calling intrapreneurs "hackers" might summon up the image of a lone genius chipping away at a pet project in isolation — on the contrary, they are by necessity and temperament radically inclusive. They engage in open-source partnering and codesign solutions with end users and other stakeholders. When I asked Bob Schwartz, GE Healthcare's global design chief, about this intrapreneurial trait, he told me: "There are so many stakeholders needed to get anything out the door in any manufacturing environment — and they have to be co-owners with you." If that means you spend a lot of time "waving your hands over your head" evangelizing your idea, while making it as much as you can about them, he said, so be it. This is a theme that cuts across most of the DIY efforts I studied: Intrapreneurs don't try to go it alone. They reach across the aisle to complementary areas where they need help and enlist others by making it clear what's in it for them.
Married to mission. Intrapreneurs are often cast as an organization's heretics, but the thing to understand is that they are frequently the most devout believers in its mission. Their problem is with how the mission is being translated into strategy and tactics. Ian Stephenson, who made a career out of being a maverick at Cargill, stressed this point. He said, "Entrepreneurialism inside a large organization is about identifying gaps and misalignments, and better aligning the organization so it performs better." In this formulation, the deviator from the strategy paradoxically keeps the company on track. Stephenson went on to say, "[Intrapreneurship] is being married to a purpose but not necessarily married to a way to do it. You know the what and the why — it's just the how that you want to be able to play across."
Frugal by nature. Like hackers, intrapreneurs proceed on the cheap, reusing existing resources, recycling materials, and employing messy, make-do methods over expensive, sanctioned systems. They are resourceful and don't ask for much — even when more would be granted.
I was struck by Babak Forutanpour's response when higher-ups at Qualcomm expressed an eagerness to support the grassroots innovation movement he had nurtured from one team of eight to ultimately thousands of employees on dozens of teams working over lunchtimes and weekends. He recalls, "We all agreed: let's just ask for a little pizza and beer money." The figure he went back with was $7,000 — giving the fourteen teams $500 each to cover takeout. The point is simple: the classic engineering bias toward getting maximum output from minimum input is in these internal disrupters' bones.
From action-oriented to mission-driven and frugal, that's seven key attributes — and there's more, since intrapreneurs are also resourceful, thick-skinned, and resilient. Of course, it's a lot to expect from any single individual — and the truth is that every innovator has his or her own particular strengths and preferred modes of working. Back in 1980, Karl Vesper made this point about entrepreneurs too — that it was more useful to understand that they come in many flavors than to try to pin down their collective "type." He came up with at least eight varieties, many of which overlap with my findings. That's part of why Marc Nager, managing director at Telluride Venture Accelerator and former CEO of Startup Weekend, says that good teams usually come in threes. "You need the person with the structure who can operate things," he says, "but also need the visionary, and then the executor. In other words: the hipster, the hacker, and the hustler."
The Bottom Line
So what's a classic intrapreneur? An employee who isn't necessarily given the setup and top-down mandate to create something new and valuable but starts doing it anyway. Intrapreneurs are the people who are just doing their jobs when they discover needs that are not being met by their organization. They are the internal disrupters who see the possibility of addressing those problems from where they sit, and they begin finding their ways to solutions. They make progress by enlisting others, achieving small victories, and pushing ahead, for the most part under the radar. That classic entrepreneurial story of someone starting a company in their garage with fifty dollars? Translate that to someone inside a company, and that's also the classic story of intrapreneurship.
These people have always existed in large organizations. Historically, they have been somewhat taken for granted, and occasionally appreciated — in other words, they have been tolerated. Today, large organizations understand the need for constant innovation, and for the first time intrapreneurs are starting to be developed, recruited, systematically supported, and celebrated.
So there is great reason to feel hopeful for the future, in spite of all the doomsday scenarios painted about large companies. Intrapreneurs are more able to make headway and add value than ever before — especially in organizations that recognize their value — and, along with forward-looking leaders, help pave a path to a Disrupt-It-Yourself organization.
It's incumbent upon leaders to identify the disrupters the company should be supporting better, while also building the systems and driving the culture change that will produce more of them.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Disrupt-It-Yourself"
Copyright © 2019 Simone Ahuja.
Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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Table of Contents
Foreword Jim Loree xi
1 Navy SEALs, Not Pirates: Meet the D-I-Y Disrupters 1
2 Why Does It Have to Be So Hard? 13
3 Principle 1: Keep It Frugal 27
4 Principle 2: Make It Permissionless 47
5 Principle 3: Let Customers Lead 65
6 Principle 4: Keep It Fluid 85
7 Principle 5. Maximize Return on Intelligence 105
8 Principle 6: Create the Commons 127
9 Principle 7: Engage Passion and Purpose 149
10 Principle 8: Add Discipline to Disruption 169
Epilogue: Eight Myths of Intrapreneurship 191
Interview Index 203
About the Author 221