3 Tenets of Intrapreneur’s Theory of Creativity

Meet Instein the intrapreneur – Einstein’s twin from a parallel universe. Arguably, Einstein had his version of intrapreneurship, publishing 4 groundbreaking papers, while working a day-job as a patent clerk. Instein, on the other hand, is a staunch believer in a more conventional form of intrapreneurship – so much so that he decided to emphasize the ‘I’ (and skip the ‘E’).

It’s 7:30 am.

Instein is already through the morning ritual of reviewing his small notebook of big ideas. He has definitive plans for the day..

It’s 8:54 am.

Instein just pulled into the parking lot of his company. It’s a 4 minute walk from the lot to his building and another minute to take the elevator and get to his office. There’s a conference call at 9 am. Those 6 minutes are all that he has got to check remainder of his inbox (part of which he glanced over the breakfast table and then some while driving), skim through the notifications from social networks and like any posts that had appeared since yesterday night.

Information consumption and proactive communication – seemingly optimal start to what promises to be a busy day.


It’s 10am.

The conference call is over. However, a colleague has just left an offline message seeking some input. It’s not urgent but it’s present.. and thus, it’s acknowledged and serviced. More information consumption and proactive communication.

It’s 11am.

Instein is hungry!

It’s 1pm.

A chat window popped up. There’s a question to be answered.

It’s 3:30pm.

There’s another email. Instein has heard inbox zero is the way to go.


It’s 4:30pm. There’s a knock on the door. It’s Dracula. He’s come to feed off Instein’s residual creativity.

It’s 5pm…


IInstein had a great concept for a product to address a new market segment. He had creative ideas to better existing product lines. He had innovative ways to make his team truly agile for once. Exasperated, Instein consults his smarter brother, Einstein, to understand how to materialize his intrapreneurial creativity.

Einstein, in a distant parallel universe, performs a thought experiment and transmits 3 tenets of Intrapreneur’s Theory of Creativity:

1. Intrapreneurial creativity needs its own space-time, parallel to the ‘consuming and communicating’ continuum

There’s enough psychology text out there to indicate that leading a life where we are inundated with information and always consuming/communicating, can inhibit creativity. There’s a reason why minimalistic web designs have become mainstream again and why most popular articles nowadays tend to have numbered lists. It’s also the reason why I’ll distil this post to no more than 3 points (How many times did you get distracted while reading this?).

Any form of creativity requires time and space – distraction-free time to think and mental space to hold those thoughts. Done right, this establishes a creative space-time continuum.

Now, entrepreneurs, independent artists or freelancers can potentially have that extra bit of freedom to completely cut off the noise and focus (greater risk, higher reward). The sort of freedom that intrapreneurs don’t always (want to) have (for various reasons). In an intrapreneurial framework, the creative space-time is challenged by the ‘consuming and communicating’ continuum. There’s no way to get rid of it. The way to work around it is to have the creative space-time work in parallel to this other continuum as per a schedule (imposed with extreme metaphorical prejudice).

When you work in the creative space-time, forget about the other continuum. Let it run in parallel. Remember that nature is all around us and it does not hurry.. yet, everything is accomplished (Lao Tzu).

2. Intrapreneurial creativity needs its own space-time of divergent and convergent thought

Creative process requires thinking from first principles, expansion of ideas, extrapolation of thought, brainstorming in teams, white-boarding, design thinking, reaching out to borrow brains and so forth. In short, it needs divergence.

Intrapreneurs work within corporate setups. Corporate setups value profits amongst other things. Profits are usually generated by servicing a need. Needs usually tend to be specific. Specificity requires convergence.

Ergo, intrapreneur’s creative space-time looks like a labyrinth of divergent and convergent thought. Focus on just the former and you’ll have lots of ideas that never converge to a product. Focus on just the latter and you’ll cease to be an intrapreneur.

3. Intrapreneurial creativity needs its own space-time with a deliberate version of connectedness

There are several abstract forms of creativity where one can (and needs to) function in a fully disconnected environment. For instance, creative writing, painting, poetry or music can be entirely thought-inspired, not needing external validation during the creation process itself. Granted that these days abstract creatives can benefit from some form of market research, purists would still demand disconnection during the creation process. However, within an intrapreneurial framework, ideas need to be constantly validated. Going back to point # 2, validation is the filter thru which divergent thoughts narrow into convergence, which in turn leads to a profitable product servicing a niche.

Using the metaphor of software patents – just like one can’t establish patentability in isolation (without being connected to review prior art), one can’t conceptualize as an intrapreneur without being connected to the extent of performing stakeholder validation. However, this is a very deliberate and necessary version of connectedness – just enough to facilitate creativity without letting through the metaphorical Dracula!


Also published on LinkedIn

Connect w/ @sushain for thoughts on data ecosystem, creativity and intrapreneurship.

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An anecdote on Technology Patents and Defensive Publications

Sometime back, one of my ideas on a classification variant using neural-networks got published on IP.com as what’s known as a defensive publication. I always thought it to be a really strong candidate for a patent application, and was a bit disappointed when my employer’s patent review board decided that it should instead be published defensively. A little more research on the topic, however, changed my stance, and upon introspection, I was quite satisfied with the state of affairs. Thought I’d record my observations here for anyone to read and clarify the whole patent-publication gamut.

Let us start with a scenario where a top-notch scientist working in a world-class firm makes a ground-breaking discovery, leading to an equally precious idea and associated methodology to implement the idea.

He knows that useful ideas within an enterprise should be protected and thus, he files a patent disclosure with his local invention review board. These boards comprise of seasoned inventors, several of them master inventors, and almost all of them having a significant patent-portfolio. Consequently, they generally also possess a healthy disdain for triviality. And so they begin to scrutinize the disclosure….

They go through the existing prior-art (what’s known on the subject) and find a few seemingly similar ideas. To clarify, they send out a questionnaire to the scientist soliciting a response. Our dear scientist, being quite busy evangelizing new ideas, misses the solicitation deadline and gets a note with the subject – ‘Disclosure Rated Close’ in his inbox after a few days.

Panic struck, he immediately writes to the review board expressing his distress and sense of injustice. Soon after though, he realizes his tardiness and writes a follow-up apologetic note asking for a re-consideration of the disclosure. He spends that night sorting thru the core idea and drafting the answers to the questionnaire – his mind already somewhat overtaken by new ideas. He sends his detailed explanation requesting the board to revoke the ‘close decision’ on the disclosure. After much deliberation, he finally succeeds and the disclosure status switches back to ‘under evaluation’. Rejuvenated with his little win, our scientist gets that transient feeling that he’s found his sixth sense and is next in line after Euler, Newton and Einstein.

The communication process goes on for sometime and then, the review board starts to exhibit that once-in-a-blue-moon impression of ‘getting the idea’. But now, they face another dilemma. They are pretty convinced that the idea is unique and the implementation novel, unlike to anything done before, but the patent, if filed, wouldn’t have significant business value.

Our scientist is inconsolable.. “Business value?!! But this is a beautiful innovation.. novelty, uniqueness, rigor.. everything in perfect proportions. Just patent it, it would create a new business for you.”

It would not, however, benefit the existing businesses. “If filed and litigated, the revenue that the patent would generate on an average after ‘n’ years and after going through ‘t’ lawsuits doesn’t weigh well against the combined cost of the patent application, those ‘t’ lawsuits and/or the cost of establishing a new business using the invention.”

In the hindsight, these explanations seem pretty rational. But the scientist still reasons, “Okay, so you don’t want to file a patent application now, no problem.. lets wait until a more opportune time”.

Board reasons – “Well, your idea is unique right now. We can wait, but then you’ll risk someone else figuring it out, in which case, your efforts will be rendered useless.”

The scientist takes a step back and thinks about the 6 billion people, who in that moment, all seem capable of taking away his prized possession. “So, what is the way out then?”, asks our Scientist.

“Well.. lets publish this defensively, which would mean publishing this in an open database accessible to everyone. That way, we preserve our rights to use it and no one else can patent it in future. So, from that point onward, it’ll become a part of non-patentable public knowledge. You will of course retain the authorship and your organization will become the disclosing entity. The only catch is that since it’ll be public, we won’t be able to generate any revenue through lawsuits. However, you can publish your results at a conference, which would provide you and your work the right level of exposure.”

To the scientist, this was a revelation – unification of business, technological and academic brilliance. An equilibrium. He thus decided to rest his case.

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