In today’s accelerated world where exciting new technologies can pop up overnight to disrupt and dominate traditional businesses, grow whole new verticals, and drive multi-billion dollar acquisitions, “entrepreneur” has become a red-hot buzzword and a dream job. Who doesn’t want to join the ranks of Uber, Warby Parker or Snapchat or secretly imagine making the next big app, creating a game-changing social media platform or inventing a new way to make dinner? The people that do are today’s heroes.
When Jack Welch (he’s actually my boss – how crazy is that?) was recently speaking to MIT’s graduating class, he noted that many of the students who came up to him to talk about their post-graduation plans expressed that “being an entrepreneur” (like Zuckerberg) was their chosen career path – as if they were talking about becoming a doctor or lawyer.
But while they may get all the credit, entrepreneurs aren’t the only innovators. Ok, so maybe you’re never going to be Zuckerberg, and you know it. Many of us don’t have the luxury, the guts or the genius idea to just go for it and start that new company in the garage or risk joining the early ranks of an up-start with only the promise of future earnings to eat on. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to become practicing entrepreneurs inside our own organizations.
Chances are, at some point in your career, you’ll start a new division or launch a new product, a new program, or a new process within the walls of your current employer (risking your company’s money instead of your own). I’ve done it four times in my career in fields ranging from healthcare to education, and it’s clear to me that many of the same characteristics that make a rockstar entrepreneur on the outside make a great every day “intrepreneur” on the inside. Either way, the ingredients you need to win are:
- A great idea. The kind of idea that can differentiate your product, your distribution, or even change the market. A big, fat “aha” that even surprises your competitors.
- The ability to “pitch” your idea to get the capital to fund it. Whether you’re getting money from VCs and angel investors or your company’s yearly CAPEX budget, the skills you need to sell your idea upwards are the same. That is some combination of passion, confidence, and data, communicated with clarity and simplicity. Corporations have a thousand ways to say no. You have to find a way to get to “yes.” If you can make your case and prove how the returns will align to your company’s top objectives, your leadership will have a very easy decision to make.
- The leadership skills to build a winning team of great people. In a big company, that means hiring fresh eyes from the outside or putting your very best internal people on a new project you think will drive growth, even if the new project is much smaller, initially than the old project they are taken off. As Jack says, if you want growth, you have to staff your engines of growth with your best. Your favorite baseball team (especially those in contention for post-season stardom) is most likely in conversations now, before the trade deadline, to upgrade and improve its team. Why shouldn’t you be doing that constantly also?
- Execution – Ideas are great but 90% of success is doing the work, right? You have to be able to do what it takes, operationally, across departments, across tangles of bureaucracy and within the constraints of your organization’s processes and policies, to get it done and get it done well. And, you will be expected to not only deliver short-term results but, at the same time, build the future. You have to do both — eating and dreaming as we like to say.
- Gut and Guts – Entrepreneurs are famous for having great instincts and the fearlessness to follow them. You can develop this kind of edge over the course of your career through pattern recognition, which is what gut instinct really is.
- The Culture of Continual Improvement – If companies like Apple didn’t have this, we’d still have iPhone 1.0 instead of iPhone 6. You can always find a better way to improve on the execution of your idea to make it better, faster, simpler, cleaner or more efficient for your customer. In my current role leading the Jack Welch Management Institute, we survey our students quarterly and use their feedback to drive new enhancements to our MBA program. We’re never done and are always searching for opportunity.
Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. But no matter where you work, or what level you’re at, you can rock intrepreneurship within your own company. You can soak up all you can from the star entrepreneurs, like Zuckerberg, that emerge every day on the outside and use those insights within your organization to drive results and incremental innovation. You can own the mindset, “We’re not going just to accept the way it’s always been done. We’re going to bet on new ideas and follow them through. We’re going to find a better way today and make it happen.”
And maybe, you’ll be practicing for the day you decide to take the leap and go make that app finally. Zuckerberg… watch out!