February 2019 Innovate

The F.A.S.T. Approach

Written By: David Whitney

Intrapreneurship plays a transformative role in organizations. This transformation is disruptive, though the disruptions reflect the economic and societal changes underway in the world at large to produce a new world order. The transformative disruption underway today, the fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), is the latest installment of disruptive change that is taking place in an industrial era; this change is characterized by leading-edge technology, innovation, entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship.

Entrepreneurship inside organizations – intrapreneurship – has been present in all industrial revolutions. Intrapreneurship continues to shape the global economy and fuels the problem-solving, creative solutions that get commercialized by innovative companies; these innovations, and the companies that created and commercialized them played leading roles in the importance and relevance of the first Industrial Revolution, starting with its birth during the 18th century.

The first Industrial Revolution (1IR) forever changed the way business was conducted in the world. 1IR witnessed the transition from a mostly agrarian-based economy and rural society into an industrial-centric economy that resulted in the formation of urbanized societies and accelerated their growth. Industries like iron and textiles and the development and deployment of steam-engine technologies played instrumental roles in 1IR.

The second Industrial Revolution took place approximately between 1870 and the start of World War I in 1914. This period saw the continued expansion of existing industries and the emergence of new industries like steel, oil and electricity. 2IR is also known for the increased usage of electric power to fuel mass production and for the development and commercialization of the internal combustion engine.

The third Industrial Revolution is sometimes referred to as the Digital Revolution and started during the 1980s. This third installment (3IR) of technology’s revolutionary impact on the world traces the evolution of analog electronic and mechanical devices to digital technologies. 3IR introduced technologies and devices like the personal computer, the internet and ultra-fast communication networks; it made possible ever-expanding mobility (including technological advancements in autonomous vehicles and drones) and ubiquitous connections in the form of the Internet of Things.

The fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is underway now. According to Wikipedia, 4IR is “characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres, collectively referred to as cyber-physical systems. It is marked by emerging technology breakthroughs in a number of fields, including robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, fifth-generation wireless technologies (5G), additive manufacturing/3D printing and technologically advanced autonomous driverless vehicles.”

Now is a terrific time to be an intrapreneur. Organizations of all sizes, regardless of the industry they operate in, benefit when team members are empowered to perform as problem-solving, innovation-producing intrapreneurs. The key to ensuring this practice succeeds is for organizations to build an environment in which employees are able to move quickly, act smartly, perform efficiently and produce output profitably.

Many leading organizations practice intrapreneurship. They do so by actively embracing and leveraging people and resources in fielding and operating venture teams, supporting accelerators/incubators inside the organization and enlisting what I call FAST (Flexible, Active, Specialized, Targeted) teams. I believe your organization can take big steps forward in creating and deploying intrapreneurial FAST teams by following the following steps.

Flexible – Instill and cultivate a Growth Mindset throughout the organization, not just with FAST team members. Intrapreneurship is about having team members who are flexible in their thinking and able to operate with degrees of autonomy. Intrapreneurs need flexibility and autonomy for identifying problems, testing and incrementally improving innovative problem-solving solutions, seeing new opportunities where others saw none, leveraging limited resources and practicing an owner’s mentality.

Active – Commercially successful intrapreneurship is about speed and agility. And, yes, commercial success relies on intrapreneurs remaining active and flexible. For intrapreneurs to achieve speed and agility while staying active and flexible, organizations’ process flows and operating procedures must reduce obstacles and barriers; doing so helps to conceive innovative solutions quickly, advanced these solutions swiftly and rapidly commercialize them into profitable products and services. Organizational structures must also allow – and even encourage – intrapreneurs to make mistakes, break things and fail repeatedly.

Specialized – Being specialized is more than having subject matter experts at work on intrapreneurial teams. Yes, domain expertise is crucial to intrapreneurial success, but what is equally important is having team members practice a startup mentality. When characterized by their startup mentality, purpose-driven team members – when they are visibly encouraged and actively supported by leadership – can navigate through progress-stifling corporate layers because they possess the experience to get the job done successfully.

Intrapreneurs best perform when they don’t fear being punished for making mistakes. Or for being fired when they fail. Intrapreneurs know that mistakes and failures are part of the innovation journey they take inside the organization, so the faster organizational leadership condones mistakes and failures – even celebrates mistakes and failures – the more focused intrapreneurs can remain in commercializing problem-solving solutions and producing measurable value to the organization.

Targeted – Most intrapreneurial teams perform deep dives into the organizations’ existing product lines and its service offerings. An insightful book that serves as a how-to guide to do so is “Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results.” The authors describe a formulaic, systemic approach to problem-solving innovation processes and outcomes.

Using best-practices methods like “systematic inventive thinking,” the inventors, entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs who create and commercialize innovation best do so by constraining their creative options – looking at improving existing product lines and service offerings with innovative, incremental changes – instead of looking into the infinite possibilities that exist in the marketplace.

Organizations of all sizes employ talented people. Many people possess creative, problem-solving innovative solutions that can be commercialized into marketable products and in-demand services. So, it is incumbent on organizations to unleash their employees to perform to the best of their abilities. This can be done by planting and growing entrepreneurial teams inside the organization in the form of intrapreneurship. Once that occurs, organizational leadership should get out of the way of their intrapreneurs and let them perform as intended. When that happens, organizations are able to advance in producing the value customers require and the results organizational leadership demands.

I am convinced your organization can succeed with intrapreneurship. This is why I recommend being FAST in your approach. Being FAST positions your organization to pursue and achieve success in the fourth Industrial Revolution. By surviving – and hopefully thriving – in 4IR, your organization can enter the fifth Industrial Revolution (approximately 2030-2040), when satellite mobile communications make the world a village and holograms, augmented reality, avatars and the Age of Singularity become the new world order.   

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