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How to Drive Intrapreneurship Within Your Business to Create Truly Great Innovation

Given my business focus on developing corporate leaders to become catalysts for corporate and societal change, I'm always looking for best practices to help drive up the engagement rate for businesses.
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I believe the motivation to do something truly great comes from within.

-- Mark Randall, Chief Strategist, VP Creativity, Adobe Systems

A lot of companies claim to foster innovation among employees, but usually on the company's terms and within highly constrained parameters. Add to this -- layers of bureaucracy, constrained budgets and slow decision-making among leadership. Is it any wonder then that Gallup's most recent State of the American Workplace report shows that 70 percent of U.S. workers aren't engaged at work? The Gallup research highlights that the disengagement can primarily be related back to what it calls the "managers from hell." They are creating active disengagement, costing the U.S. an estimated $450 billion to $550 billion annually.

The report also indicates that for the other 30 percent that are engaged and inspired at work, it can be attributed to great bosses and leaders. Gallup finds that these engaged employees in the U.S. come up with most of the innovative ideas, create most of a company's new customers and have the most entrepreneurial energy. This type of employee can also be referred to as the intrapreneur, or the entrepreneur on the job.

Given my business focus on developing corporate leaders to become catalysts for corporate and societal change, I'm always looking for best practices and examples to highlight in my training programs and speaking engagements on intrapreneurship to help drive up the engagement rate for businesses. I recently heard about a product innovation process that Adobe, spearheaded by its VP of Creativity, Mark Randall, used to empower individual employees to follow their instincts about emerging opportunities. They created an "innovation-in-a-box" kit called Kickbox. Kickbox is one of several programs at Adobe to incubate ideas and cultivate future innovations, explorations and projects inside its product teams, labs, research teams and more. The box, red in color, contains the items below to meet the intrapreneur's needs:

  • Money. Each red box contains a pre-paid credit card in the amount of U.S. $1,000. Innovators use these funds to validate their idea.

  • Instructions. Kickbox includes quick reference cards outlining the six levels in the red box. Each card includes a checklist of actions innovators must complete to advance to the next level.

  • Other innovation tools. These include scorecards, frameworks, exercises, and other materials employees use to develop ideas.

  • Caffeine and sugar. Each red box includes a Starbucks gift card and a candy bar, since they know that two of the four major food groups of innovators are caffeine and sugar!
  • The results from this initiative? To date, Adobe has distributed over 1,000 red boxes to its employees around the world. Prior to implementing the program, the company may have developed up to a dozen new product ideas to present to its customers for prototype feedback. They might spend anywhere from $100,000 to $1 million on each one of those projects in the past. Now they've been able to do several hundred projects for less money.

    For me, the novel approach with the Kickbox program is that Mark Randall states that Adobe is building innovators, not just innovations. They also understand that motivation is intrinsic. Therefore, by allowing employees to tap into their own sense of mission and inspiration and learning-by-doing, they are pioneering innovation that results in ownership and self-accountability by the employee and teams.

    Additionally, based upon 18 months of results, they have found that the program helps innovators:

    • Be more effective and have more impact
    • Build valuable life skills and experience (for example, ideation, divergent thinking, and business creation)
    • Increase job satisfaction and engagement (as demonstrated by participant evaluation scores)
    • Discover (or rediscover) their passion for delighting customers

    It has also helped the organization:

    • Increase innovation quantity, quality, and speed across the organization
    • Empower existing innovators to be more effective and more engaged
    • Identify and activate latent innovators (who may not know they're innovators)
    • Foster an innovation culture and attract innovators to the organization

    Programs, such as Kickbox, are crucial to addressing the leadership issues associated with the 70 percent disengagement rate cited in the Gallup study. Showing employees that you are invested in their success and satisfaction by offering up something outside of their normal mode of working and empowering them to move forward builds a culture of trust and commitment. Another differentiating factor with Adobe's initiative is that it decided to open source Kickbox to make innovation accessible to other companies. This truly demonstrates a wonderful example of a company that embraces the collaboration economy, in addition to committing to developing its employees and driving intrapreneurship.

    Sir Richard Branson has stated that Virgin could never have grown into the group of more than 200 companies it is now, were it not for a steady stream of intrapreneurs who looked for and developed opportunities, often leading efforts that went against the grain. However, in order for intrapreneurs to drive innovation, companies need to implement initiatives that provide the framework to make this happen. That's what differentiates a great company from a good company.

    For more information on solutions to drive innovation within your organization, please visit my website at

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