Are You an Intrapreneur? (Weekly Reminder leadership blog)

May 5, 2014

This post originally appeared on the Weekly Reminder leadership blog on May 5, 2014. Read it here .


Are You an Intrapreneur? (May 5, 2014)


This week’s Weekly Reminder comes to us from guest writer, Jason Steinhauer. Jason was a member of the eighth class of the Library of Congress Leadership Development Program (LDP) from 2012-2013, and is currently a program specialist in the Library’s John W. Kluge Center.


Perhaps it’s because he recently bought The Washington Post, but it feels like Jeff Bezos, the CEO of, is everywhere these days. There are books about him. Media profiles about him. TED talks featuring him. Everywhere you look, every web search you do, another item about him is appearing.


Bezos certainly has a good publicist. But it’s likely that something else is going on. America loves entrepreneurs—and as far as entrepreneurs go, Bezos is one of the hottest.


Why do we celebrate entrepreneurship? Perhaps it’s because entrepreneurs epitomize a quintessentially American spirit of independence, risk-taking, and success. As such, we hold up successful examples of entrepreneurship as inspiration to others that anything is possible with the right combination of talent, attitude, and hard work. That the success often comes with increased power and wealth enhances the intrigue.


Secretly, we may harbor our own desires to be entrepreneurs; to strike out on our own, launch a new idea, and spread it to the world, gathering fame and fortune along the way—if only we had the means to break from our cubicles. But what if you could harness that entrepreneurial spirit and put it to use from wherever you are, to drive your organization forward and spur innovation. The result? Intrapreneurship.


Unlike its sexier cousin entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship has not received much media acclaim. The term was coined in 1978 by business authors Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot, and entered The American Heritage Dictionary in 1992. It is defined by American Heritage as, “A person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation.” Simply put, it means behaving like an entrepreneur while inside a large organization. Intrapreneurs are entrepreneurs from within. They are employees who spot opportunities, take risks, and spur innovation to the mutual benefit of themselves and the organization.


What are the characteristics of intrapreneurship? The Harvard Business Review suggests a few:


Money is not a Motivator – Intrapreneurship is not motivated by financial reward. It is motivated by the desire to see change, spread ideas, and act with autonomy within an organization.


Strategic Scanning – Intrapreneurship involves constantly thinking about what’s next, scanning for new information, anticipating changes, and leveraging new insights.


Greenhousing – Intrapreneurship means tending to ideas for days and weeks at a time, adding to them, refining them, and nurturing them into mature plans for organizational change.


Visual Thinking – Intrapreneurship entails formulating and envisioning solutions, using a combination of brainstorming, mind mapping, and design thinking.


Pivoting – Intrapreneurship may necessitate shifting course mid-stream, in order to resuscitate a failing idea or an organization.


Integrity – Intrapreneurship requires confidence, humility, and a strong sense of purpose.


There are certainly additional attributes. Estimates are that large organizations have dozens of intrapreneurs within their halls. The challenge is identifying them, and providing them space to flourish.


If you’ve read this far, perhaps it’s because you are realizing that you are an intrapreneur—or at least, you feel you have the capacity. Or maybe you feel you have the potential to grow into an intrapreneur, if you were only offered the opportunity to put your intrapreneurial spirit into action.


The good news is, right now, at this very moment, there are opportunities all around you. Like entrepreneurs, the onus is on intrapreneurs to spot the opportunity within their organization, and leverage it to the mutual benefit of the company and the individual. Every organization has a new initiative that you can volunteer to be a part of. Every agency has a need to innovate, and transform old ideas into new, viable ones. Every large company has potential trapped within the constraints of its hierarchical structure. Opportunities for intrapreneurship are ripe for being seized.


One word of caution: like entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs must be willing to take risks in order to succeed. And success must be a win-win for the organization and individual, not solely the individual, or else there is no true innovation. As such intrapreneurship may not be for everyone. How do you know if intrapreneurship is right for you? As Jeff Bezos says, perhaps it is up to each person to put him or herself through what Bezos calls the “regret minimization framework.” Imagine yourself when you’re 80 years old, Bezos says, laying in bed at night at looking back at your life. Will you regret having tried and failed, or regret not ever having tried at all? How you answer that question may determine your true intrapreneurial spirit.


So go ahead. Dream big. Seek to spur change. Tap that intrapreneurial spirit and look for opportunities for innovation, creativity, and transformation within your organization. It’s a chance for each of us to be like Jeff Bezos from wherever we currently sit. What idea or project will you turn into a new venture?


Have a great week.

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