If you are a leader tasked with delivering innovation, your job is to guide your team or organization to discover and develop new ideas in order to deliver value to clients and customers. This note serves to remind you of some key elements you can put in place as you and your team prepare to do amazing things in the days ahead.

 

Welcome All Ideas, from Everyone

First, appreciate ideas for their own sake. It’s a good sign. Why? It tells you people are thinking, it tells you that they are invested in accomplishing results. Now ideas may be great, good, bad, or even stupid but that’s of secondary importance. Ideas are dynamic.

You can influence the quality of ideas showing up within the team by taking certain measures. We will see some of those below. Again, bad ideas in one context can become great ones in another. Ask everyone to pitch in, not just as an assignment but as a habit. 

 

Plant Idea Seeds

You do this by cultivating a culture and work environment where learning is centerstage, where it is celebrated. This is how to shape the ideas coming from your team. Support professional learning opportunities as well as non-work-related learning experiences.

You can employ courses, workshops, books, events, mentoring sessions. Do what you can to expose your people to the best learning experiences. You are seeding their minds with data and information that will birth new ideas and idea connections that will bring forth innovation.

 

Create A Healthy Environment

Foster a culture of empathy, mutual respect, and collaboration. Lead by relating to people as individuals, not just employees. This requires more effort than treating them as contracted employees earning salaries or commissions, but it creates important connections, to varying degrees.

Two things happen when you do this: 1, the connection you create leads to better communication, and understanding of roles and expectations. 2, You set a model for communication and interaction among the team, the trust and mutual respect spread across the team creating a web of engagement and goodwill. Remember, an idea may come from one person, but the resulting innovation is usually due to teamwork.

 

Applaud Innovation — and Effort and Improvement

Recognize and reward innovation whether it be the huge, revenue-generating idea or a cost-saving one as simple as reducing power consumption or paper or toner usage. In the same vein, recognize and reward effort and risk-taking, too — within the borders of the organization’s objectives, ethical or regulatory requirements. As Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson said in The One Minute Manager, “Catch them doing something right.”

Conversely, avoid blaming and shaming, whether in private or in public. Where someone falls short, guide them to learn from such events, emphasize learning from such events. They are opportunities for both individual and organizational learning and growth.

 

Allow Change

Many leaders solicit ideas, even celebrate them, and yet prefer to maintain the status quo. The joy isn’t in the applause, people embrace the call to innovate because they want to see actual results and are frustrated when they don’t get the support they expect.

What do you do with the ideas people bring to you? How many ideas have you run with or investigated in the last year? Allow change. Take them as experiments, small bets with support and resources within the bounds of the organization’s budget. Who knows, they just might turn out to be the future of your organization.

 

Communication plays a huge role in innovation. 

It also involves listening. Communicate the team’s or organization’s vision and goals and be open to contributions from the un-usual suspects: seek out perspectives and opinions from the quietest people, from the rebels, from non-management staff.

Create a system for eliciting feedback on the organization’s most important goals and aspirations from the rank and file. A suggestion box might be useful, or an email address, or an app. Choose what works best for your organization.

So, remember to welcome all ideas, promote a learning culture and a healthy working environment, celebrate innovation and effort, and be willing to support the new ideas for innovation.


Dear Business Leader, there are people right now in your organization with the ideas and drive you seek to take your business to the next level–or at least start the company on the way to new innovation. They are intrapreneurs. You will do well to invest in them, and in their ideas.

According to Gifford Pinchot III, the revered proponent of intrapreneurship, these intrapreneurs are:

  • Employees who do for corporate innovation what an entrepreneur does for his or her start-up.
  • Dreamers who do.
  • Self-appointed general managers of a new idea.
  • Drivers of change to make business a force for good.

They are the ones who challenge the status quo, bring forward new ideas, and find fulfillment in translating new ideas to change and innovation. Sometimes, they are the odd employees who think differently, who appear way more critical of the new product, the ones constantly wondering, often aloud, “maybe there is a better way” to carry out a certain process or to design a certain product.

The Demand and Opportunity for Innovation

The global startup culture is both a boon and a threat to established organizations. In a world where there are no guaranteed markets or revenue sources, in one where the competition is not just other players in your industry but those in unrelated industries, companies must ramp up their innovativeness in order to survive and thrive in the market.

This innovativeness is how readily you adopt new ways in your operations or introduce positive change in how the customer experiences your offering. There are generally three ways to achieve this:

  1. Acquire another business to leverage its innovation.
  2. Partner with external parties such as other startups to pursue innovation.
  3. Develop internal capacity to mine ideas, explore and nurture them to deliver value to the customer.

Of those three means, the ability for organizations to develop innovation internally is highly significant. Such innovation helps the organization to grow organically and offers obvious cost-savings over going outside to shop for innovation, at least in the short term. How do you achieve this internal-driven innovation? You can achieve this through intrapreneurs.

Examples of Intrapreneurs’ Impact

For instance, Sony’s largest business segment as of 2020 was its game and network services (Source). Did you know that the top executives at Sony rejected the idea of developing a gaming division when an employee Ken Kutaragi first proposed it? They thought it was a waste of time, a fad not worth the company’s time and resources. There are more examples of intrapreneurs literally at work:

  • Gmail came into existence because a Google employee Paul Bucheit invented it outside his routine job.
  • Freddy Anzures first came up with Apple’s iconic ‘swipe to unlock’ feature.
  • Shoppers on Amazon can be assured of two-day delivery because employees developed Amazon Prime.
  • Starbucks ramped up its personalized customer experience because one intrapreneurial barista had a habit of writing customer names on coffee cups instead of the coffee type.

Typically you would expect to find intrapreneurs in product development, marketing, and sales departments or teams but increasingly the organization must look beyond such roles in identifying and enabling entrepreneurial employees to share and implement their ideas. The organization thrives as intrapreneurs drive innovation within it.

How to Empower Employees to Become Intrapreneurs

Here are some steps you can begin to take to awaken an intrapreneurial spirit in your employees:

  • Become a Learning Organization. Encourage everyone to learn and grow. Provide learning opportunities and amenities. Nurture a community of curious people, learners and thinkers. Evaluate your learning and development programs to include everyone.
  • Bring your people closer to your customers. Find opportunities to expose your people to customers so they understand your business better. People across the organization will feel empowered to pitch in when they experience the processes of serving your customers firsthand.
  • Encourage everyone to share ideas. If you have a think-tank, a committee or team responsible for generating ideas, repurpose the team to serve as an engine for collecting and refining ideas.
  • Demonstrate that you value good ideas. Sponsor the ideas or have other leaders adopt the ideas employees propose. Recognize and reward ideas. Let your people develop confidence in the process.
  • Ask for problems, ask for solutions. Share problems, ask for solutions. If you are defensive when employees come up with problems, they will clam up when they should be initiating or furthering conversations that lead to change. Rather than justifying the company’s position, ask for solutions instead. In fact, go one step further by being the one to share problems first and invite employees to provide ideas and solutions.
  • Give new ideas room to grow without the pressures of the regular performance metrics. Large companies do this when they expend much resources on new innovations and experiments without expecting returns for extended periods. One way to achieve this as a small business is to take small bets. Encourage new ideas with minimal resources in test markets, look for ways to piggyback new ideas on your current cash cows.
  • Allow idea champions to lead or take active roles in developing the ideas. As appropriate, support them with a cross-functional team to see the idea through to delivery.
  • Recognize and reward good ideas. Work with the mix that works best for your organization–company recognitions, cash awards, promotions, and others.

Intrapreneurs Drive Innovation from Within

More than ever before, innovation driven from within will help businesses stay relevant in the ever-demanding marketplace. Without this, your business cannot be nimble enough to adapt to changing market conditions. No matter how well-established your business is, it must adapt to the environment, and in many cases learn to pivot like a startup. Raising a company of intrapreneurs will create a force of innovation that will help your business thrive in the seasons ahead.


Entrepreneurship is about identifying and solving problems using new ideas. The greater the scale or impact to which this is achieved, the more successful people and organizations can be. Let’s talk about three important elements you need to achieve success as an entrepreneur. You need to have

  • an intuition for identifying problems,
  • the character for seeking solutions to the problems, and
  • the acumen for monetizing the solutions.

Of course, many other variables come into play such as the team involved or marketing, but these are the core components. Let’s take a quick look at these core activities.

 

1. Identify the Problem

You need to identify a real problem faced by people at a location you can reach. You cannot assume, the issue must be real. Now, saying this does not mean it must be a functional problem, some problems are psychological or luxury-seeking.

For instance, the lack of potable water in an African community is a functional, life-threatening problem. Searching for bottled water in the UK is also a problem, not one of thirst or survival, but of preference or choice. But a problem is a problem, it just depends on whom you are addressing and where you are, that is, the context.

 

2. Develop a Problem-Solving Idea

Secondly, you should seek to develop a problem-solving idea. Consider the context, that is, the people, economy, or timing, what type of solution would eliminate or at least begin to address the problem in question?

With Project Loon, Google tried to address the problem of internet blackout or poor coverage in the remotest parts of developing countries. The idea was to deploy wi-fi using balloons floating over the areas with poor or service blackouts. On the other hand, Elon Musk’s Starlink is on a mission to solve the same problem using satellite technology.

 

3. Convert the Idea into a Source of Income

Finally, you have to find a way to convert that idea to a form in which people can pay you money for it. Again, the factor of context must be considered.

For instance, someone may identify the problem of poor infant nutrition in her community. Her idea may be to offer nutritious food to families to solve this problem. Now, should families be able to buy the food on-demand or have it delivered monthly? Should it be a large food basket able to sustain the child for the month or should it be chunked up into more affordable units (in the short term)?

The answers to these and more questions would depend on knowing the attributes of the target customers and tailoring the solution to fit their capacity as it meets their needs.

 

Successful Entrepreneurship

Lifebank founder Temie Giwa-Tubosun identified the problem of access to safe blood for women in cases related to pregnancy and childbirth in Nigeria and Africa. She came to this reality after her own “complicated and harrowing” experience during childbirth despite the fact that she had her child in the US.

The question was: how did women in less fortunate situations in Africa fare during such experiences? With the rate of maternal deaths in Nigeria at nearly 20% of the global count, she knew she had identified a real problem she could help solve by providing briding the logistics gap.

Having identified the problem, she founded Lifebank to provide the required logistics to source for and deliver the much-needed blood to hospitals on-demand 24/7. The organization partners with blood banks across Nigeria and Kenya with other countries on the horizon.

Patients and doctors place orders for whole blood, other blood products, and oxygen via their website, mobile app, or telephone, Lifebank contacts the nearest blood bank closest to the patient, and delivery is made. This could be by car, motorcycle, boat, or a drop-in delivery by drone if that is what the occasion demands.

Lifebank continues to innovate by launching new solutions such as the

  • SmartBag, explained as “a blockchain-powered product that helps patients and health providers discover the safety records of blood and blood products”,
  • Blood and Oxygen Access Trust (BOAT) for creating universal access to healthcare for low-income patients,
  • Home Kit for COVID-19 tests, and
  • DonorX, an online portal that allows blood donors to book donation appointments at the closest blood banks.

In 2019, Lifebank won the $250,000 first prize of the Africa Netpreneur Award Initiative by the Jack Ma Foundation.

 

It’s Your Turn

Look around and you will find that these three key building blocks are the pillars of successful businesses around you, regardless of the industry. Do these thoughts stir up any ideas? Do feel free to comment, like, and share this post.