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Turning disruption into advantage

As part of our In Conversation series, author Nicole Yershon will be discussing her bestselling book, Rough Diamond. Here she shares with us one of the topics in her book – intrapreneurship and outlines some of the key characteristics of an intrapreneur.

A big part of being a maverick is being smart. Street smart. Not arrogant. Just knowing enough to stay ahead of trouble. I guess some would say ‘hustle’ - but that really is the life of an intrapreneur - to make something happen from nothing - magic something up - just because you can.

It’s an instinct most of the time. I’m not sure it can be learned in school with exams. For me, it was more about having better answers than anyone else. There’s a balance in that too. Nobody likes a smug smart arse.

My approach was always to listen, look, and then provide answers. Sometimes I would come to the party with answers in my mind that could help identify the right question too.

It’s questions that drive the creative mind. Every time I went to take a brief, I was always waiting for the moment for the penny to be dropped - for the actual question to emerge.

The key characteristics of intrapreneurship

While intrapreneurs are still relatively uncommon in large organisations, they are crucial in recognizing and navigating change. So what are some of the common characteristics of the intrapreneur?

1. Always prepared for change

Intrapreneurs have all their fingers and toes on the pulse of change. They position themselves in front of the next wave and prepare to get swept up by it. Standing on the shore and watching it will never work because change is relentless.

2. Take a long-term view

It will never be one single person’s responsibility to see these changes - it’s too enormous a data set, but often those running the business don’t necessarily have the wherewithal to have their finger on the pulse of what’s coming. They need someone to be the spotter, to look outside and connect. The intrapreneur takes a long-term view. It requires a perspective that’s hard for some, and others may discount it as superfluous.

3. Always remain curious

The traits of childlike curiosity and fearlessness make a great intrapreneur.  We’re programmed by parents and teachers to see things as right or wrong, and it takes real work to reprogram ourselves out of the right/wrong mindset into the ‘try and learn mindset’. One of my favourite sayings is, “you don’t know what you don’t know”. Never be frightened to admit that – it’s the intrapreneur’s role to know the person who does know the right answer, we just need to “know enough to be dangerous” and then connect the dots.

4. Don’t fear failure

The intrapreneurial approach to trying new things is to test and learn. Try something out, even if you’re not sure it will work. If it fails, don’t lie about it, not even to yourself. Just try a different way next time. There is no judgment in failure, only the opportunity to make a different choice next time.

Innovation and intrapreneurship – the six Rs of innovation

In my days at Ogilvy, our core team knew that we needed a framework to make sure we could answer questions about the value of innovation and so we decided to measure our work with what we called the 6 Rs of innovation success:

  1. Revenue
  2. Reputation
  3. Recruitment 
  4. Retention
  5. Relationships
  6. Responsibility

It was a simple enough device to remember and had the right effect inside the agency. It is also part of the instigator and heartbeat of Rough Diamond.

Writing the book was in lots of ways cathartic. It follows the path of my pain and my joy — it demonstrates that we all have two choices. Whatever happens — learn from it and exploit it or let it overwhelm you and diminish your light.

The creation of the book itself proved the point. A microcosm of my entire life. It was an experience I’ve learned so much from — more pain and more joy. In so many ways it mirrored everything I’ve ever done. And it taught me that it’s time for different rules.

Nicole will be speaking at an upcoming event Turning Disruption into Advantage at Nesta on Wednesday 7 February.

Rough Diamond is published by Lifestyle Entrepreneurs Press


Nicole Yershon

Nicole Yershon is a consultant, speaker, judge, mentor connector and bestselling author. She works on the front line of innovation - bringing organisations into the 21st Century. She...