Embracing Innovation Within Your Organization

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This month Points of Light released its 5th digital Civic Life Today magazine focused on social entrepreneurship. This issue examines the work and world of social entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurs get to the root of causes; they identify a need that has not been met by traditional structures and then work to solve it.  

While social entrepreneurs operate outside of organizations, did you know that they can exist within organizations too? 

Social intrapreneurship has a few definitions, but generally it is the “Successful adaptation of entrepreneurial attitudes and strategies inside of a bureaucratic organization.”   

Think about your own organization – do you know any intrapreneurs? They could be existing leaders at your organization or even highly-engaged volunteers that serve with you. Or maybe you are one! There are many different qualities you might expect from an intrapreneur, but here are a few: 

  • Passionate about the cause or issue they are supporting. Like any successful social entrepreneur, they take the time to understand the issue they are seeking to address.  

  • Willing to take risks. The status quo or traditional approaches aren’t limiting and they are comfortable with taking data and their broader lived experiences to try different ways. They are resilient and driven, allowing them to be more adaptable to adversity. 

  • Optimistic. They believe change is possible and that they have the passion and drive to make it happen. 

  • Ability to work within systems. Intrapreneurs are able to understand and work within existing organizational structures, while also seeing opportunities to adapt them in order to foster change.  

Intrapreneurial talent can be a significant benefit not only to your organization, but also in moving your mission forward and serving your community. Below are a few ways organizations can help support and cultivate intrapreneurship (adapted from The Innovators Handbook). 

  • Create a culture of learningThis is no surprise, but an organizational culture that is unwilling or unable to adapt and learn will likely not be able to support new, entrepreneurial ideas. A culture that values creativity and future thinking will be a better fit for intrapreneurs seeking to create change  
  • Recognize biases. Equally as important to create a culture or system that avoids biases is to recognize them in the first place. Here are three to be particularly aware of: 
    • Authority bias: Our tendency to attribute greater accuracy to anyone in a higher position. Also known as the HiPPO effect – or the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. 
    • Bandwagon bias: Our predisposition to replicate and emulate what others are doing.
    • Law of the instrument: Our habit of becoming unquestioningly enamored with a methodology, process or tool. Hence the well-known idiom, “if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” 
  • Innovation as an opportunity, not a requirement. Great ideas can come from anywhere, but they shouldn’t just be more criteria on a job description. Ideas are opportunities and organizations should assume that there is much untapped potential throughout their organization. Organizational structures should invite everyone to the innovation table. 

What other ways can your organization foster innovation and creativity? Do you have any social intrapreneurs that have inspired you? Share below! 

Sarajane Foltz

Director, Capacity Building, Points of Light

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