Leadership Matters: Top 10 Trends for Intrapreneurs

innovation leader holding illuminated lightbulb
Kaihan Krippendorff Photo

6 minutes

Ideas to help illuminate your path to organizational innovation and transformation

This article was reprinted from the author’s blog with permission. Read the original post here.

In an environment of external uncertainty and internal resource constraints, the role of intrapreneurs—those leaders driving innovation from within organizations—is more critical than ever. At Outthinker Networks, we are fortunate to meet every day with intrapreneurial leaders inside large and complex organizations as they share their top-of-mind questions, challenges and visions.

While we navigate through two wars and a world steeped in chaos and volatility, I hope you’ll find a spark in these 10 trending areas to illuminate your path to organizational innovation and transformation.

1. AI for Cost Reduction

We met with strategy and innovation executive members of Outthinker Networks last month in Atlanta for an AI practitioners’ workshop. AI can improve business efficiency by up to 40% and reduce operational costs by up to 30%. Many companies are already using AI to reduce costs and resources for software development, sales and marketing.

Think about a company like Uber, which has yet to turn a profit. The company’s total revenue in 2022 was $31.877 billion, while its operating expenditures were $33.709 billion. A 30% reduction in operating costs would make the company profitable.

As you think about your intrapreneurial ideas and initiatives, consider: What innovations can you introduce with AI proposing new ways to reduce development, sales and/or marketing costs?

2. AI for Ideation

A new paper from the Mack Institute for Innovation Management shows that ChatGPT can generate higher quality business innovation ideas than students at an elite university—and that it does so at a faster rate and lower cost. An Outthinker study in which we interviewed over 200 successful intrapreneurs found that those that have the most success don’t have just one idea; they are constantly generating new ideas.

Consider experimenting with ChatGPT or other AI tools to add to your portfolio of innovation options and come up with creative ways to solve problems.

3. Labor Dynamics

The recent writers’ strike and shift in bargaining power from employers to employees underscores the need for innovative staffing and employee relations solutions. According to workforce expert Elizabeth Altman, contract workers used to make up 5-10% of the workforce, yet today that has risen to 30-50%.

In the past, pitching an intrapreneurial idea may have meant a long hiring process to add extra headcount, but today it may be easier to hire contract workers or leverage AI. The various types of employees, their flow of work and how we treat them are key areas of focus for intrapreneurial leaders.

4. Member Lifetime Value

Peter Fader, Wharton professor and author of Customer Centricity, proposes a contradictory approach to treating all members equally well. In a world of unprecedented amounts of consumer data, it’s possible to identify the most valuable members (or potential members) and dedicate the most energy to serving them well. Many successful intrapreneurial leaders focus on their highest-value customers or clients, listen to their needs and preferences, and allow those findings to guide their innovation efforts.

5. Delivering Proximity

Ongoing research conducted by Outthinker (in conjunction with Robert Wolcott, co-founder and chairman of The World Innovation Network) continues to point to a trend we call “Proximity”—the production and provision of goods and services moving closer to the exact point of demand (P=0) in time and space. It’s more than supply chain optimization; this is a complete overhaul of the way we live, work and strategize, fueled by IoT (Internet of Things) devices, data analytics and AI, to deliver the best, personalized and fastest experience to meet members at their point of demand.

At your credit union, every barrier between now and P=0 is an innovation opportunity for you to pursue.

6. Sustainability/Impact

Enterprises are facing a critical moment of change. New regulations, climate change and consumers are demanding they transform their business to create positive impact on the world and embrace a role in shaping a future that is more equitable and sustainable for all. Intrapreneurial leaders need to make significant strategic decisions in this new environment of accountability.

Consider taking the B Corporation’s “B Impact Assessment”. Even if you aren’t pursuing a B Corp certification, it can help point out innovation leverage points in the areas of sustainability and impact.

7. Portfolio Management

Innovation portfolio management has always been important—intrapreneurs need to know what their organization plans to explore, because innovation ideas aligned to those areas are more likely to get funding and support. In an environment of increased uncertainty, what has changed is not only which portfolio pieces to invest in but also how to manage a portfolio with greater percentages of experimentation. Portfolio management must now consider greater levels of opacity and lack of certainty.

Many intrapreneurial Outthinker members find Rita McGrath’s portfolio model particularly powerful.

8. Employee Orientation

Employee passion and creativity is the catalyst for innovation. In remote, back-to-the-office or hybrid environments, organizations are focused on capitalizing on initial excitement and momentum to support their employees’ experience. How might you onboard and activate employees into a culture of intrapreneurship?

Adobe offers a great experience to start—employees are given a box that contains everything they need to test a new innovation idea: instruction cards, a pen, two Post-it note pads, two notebooks, a Starbucks gift card, a bar of chocolate and (most importantly) a $1,000 prepaid credit card. The card can be used on anything the employee would like or need without ever having to justify it or fill out an expense report.

9. Delivering Value Through Ecosystems

A business ecosystem refers to the interconnected network of companies, stakeholders, technologies and market forces that collectively shape the competitive landscape. Ecosystems and partnerships are a practical way to enhance capabilities and market potential of your intrapreneurial ideas. Intrapreneurs who recognize and harness the power of business ecosystems can support their organizations to drive sustainable growth and maintain a competitive advantage.

10. Organizational Networks

To solve bigger organizational and global challenges, businesses are looking to support more cross-silo collaboration. Employees should be encouraged to pursue ideas that cut across business units, rather than be prohibited from doing so. Organizations that act like ecosystems and empower employees to work across departments show higher rates of intrapreneurial intensity, improved financial performance, and increased ability to attract and retain top talent.

Successful intrapreneurs discover opportunities, evaluate and choose which opportunities to exploit, take autonomous action, and rally resources while operating in a dispersed environment—even when they do not have direct authority to do so. Consider these 10 trending areas to direct your intrapreneurial focus and to broaden your spectrum of innovative options.

Kaihan Krippendorff is the founder/CEO of Outthinker, a think tank that builds corporate communities and specializes in conducting research on business strategy, innovation and technology. He is also founder of Outthinker Networks, a global peer network of senior strategy and innovation executives focused on helping them solve their most pressing challenges and staying ahead of the pace of change.

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