It’s interesting how seemingly casual conversations can provoke thoughts across a broad spectrum and end up being instructive. Sometime back, I had one such conversation with a restaurant server (Charlie) while having late dinner.
Are enjoying your dinner sir?’ Yes, everything is good, thanks. ‘That’s great, you seem like you had a long day. ‘Yeah, I was really looking forward to a good meal .’
So what do you do?’ I devise and build software products. ‘What type of software?’ I specialize in data management and data driven software. ‘What kind of data?’ Various kinds. (trying to switch context..)
So, do you work here full-time? ‘Nope, just a side gig. I’m an aspiring entrepreneur.. trying to start my own food outlet’. Ah nice, well I can understand that. ‘Hah. So, you didn’t say what kind of data you work with?’ Hm, I’m just thinking how to explain in simple… ‘Come on man, get creative. What is your business?”.
Eventually, I did end up explaining it to Charlie in a manner that he could relate with and in process, synthesized the following pointers on creatively retaining your intrapreneurial edge (specifically for engineers and technologists) –
1. You are in business
Charlie underscored that as long as you make a living doing what you do, there’s always a business side to the equation, a customer/client/buyer/user who is paying money to you or your organization (for intrapreneurs). Granted this may be obvious to many, but at times, a technology-focused employee can subconsciously create an alternate reality where technology turns into money (and food/water/shelter). Why? Because they get paid to work with and use technology to develop products. Product management acts as the messenger of the market and sales takes care of getting the product to the market. However, an intrapreneur (more or less like an entrepreneur) is donning all those hats at one point or the other to lead an idea to fruition. So, for the intrapreneurial minded employees, it is of paramount importance to always connect technology with business cases, even if it’s not part of the day job. Only then can they expect to have the freedom and resources that are essential to conceptualize ideas, invent solutions and initiate projects to truly and effectively act as an intrapreneur – all within the framework of a gainful employment.
2. You are in business of finding simple and creative explanations
Few minutes into our conversation, Charlie excused himself to get my bill. I’d have done the usual but for his question around the kind of data I work on, I paused and used the bill as a real-world example to help convey the idea. Charlie could relate to it way better because it had to do with his day job.
He went on to describe how they had bought a new software recently because the one they had before would confuse between various order types (dine-in, take-out and delivery) and didn’t allow them to merge customers based on phone numbers. Interestingly, he had just described two problems (reference data and master data management) that I was working on at the time.
As an intrapreneur, you ought to not only have an eye for technical detail and the end-user, but also for coming up with simple explanations that non-technical folks can easily relate to. This is a must-have in order to create buy-in from a varied set of stakeholders and eventually, receive the executive oversight for your idea to get funded and staffed.
3. You are in business of socializing your ideas all the time
.. or most of the time, never mind the late dinner. This shouldn’t be hard to fathom because intrapreneurship is entrepreneurship after all, just within the sphere of a large organization, which makes it all the more important to socialize your ideas and associated use cases to get backers and justify funding. It is not a coincidence that social intrapreneurs have been part of an elite group that’s considered to be one of the most valuable across organizations [Forbes]. So, if a Charlie out there wants to get a thousand-feet view of the problem that you are solving, it’s probably worthwhile to do your bit as an intrapreneur. Even if Charlie mentions that it was only yesterday that he saw a similar idea, you’d still have him as a reference that could help validate another idea down the road or act as a potential backer.