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Why Richard Branson Threw Out the Rule Book (and you should too)

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Richard Branson Intrapreneurship

“Many millions of people proudly claim the title ‘entrepreneur.’ On the other hand, a title that hasn’t gotten nearly the amount of attention it deserves is entrepreneur’s little brother, ‘intrapreneur’”

Success in business can be the result of great visions and thoughtful strategies, but Richard Branson has revealed that the success of Virgin is, at least in part, owed to a stroke of luck. Before Virgin Mobile had taken off, and while the Galactic project was only a twinkle in Branson’s eye, Virgin Travel provided an experience that would come to guide the entire brand’s business ethos.

By hiring an ambitious young designer, Joe Ferry, for an open-ended design project, Branson unwittingly realised the potential of ‘Intrapreneurship’. The intrapreneur, or entrepreneur in residence, is given the run of a company’s resources without the constraints of protocol and routine. This freedom can result in the kind of left-of-field ideas which inspire both cultural change and amazing business opportunities.

The success of this experiment was huge and as a result, Branson has incorporated Ferry’s intrapreneurial role into the infrastructure of the ever expanding Virgin brand. He has, in fact, credited intrapreneurship as the essential element of his success:

“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.”

Since then, Branson has been calling for a complete reassessment of how his, and other, business’ are run. He suggests that if management were to actively encourage intrapreneurship across the board then employees would have the freedom necessary to truly invest in their work.

Some other well-known companies have also embraced this thinking. They adopted policies enabling employees to play and tinker for up to 20% of their time, leading to some great new and successful products.

Would you like that freedom – the ability to act as if it were your own business? That feeling of being so much engaged in your work, that time slows down and everything seems to be going exactly right? How is that compared to your current corporate life – isn’t there a big gap for most of us?

As students, with no real understanding of the corporate world, most of us had big ideas, dreams and visions. We thought about how when we entered that world we would make a difference, how our generation would be leaders of change. Three years later, we are dragging ourselves out of bed and into work, and hoping to win the lottery so that we can have an early retirement. When you start intrapreneuring, you will do meaningful work, grow your impact and boost your career. It will ignite that spark again.

The intrapreneurial road isn’t the most obvious one and for sure not the easiest. In fact, while entrepreneurs have the luxury of setting the course on their own, as an intrapreneur, you are part of a running business, which requires you to stay connected to and aligned with the influencers and decision makers in your organization.

As many impactful intrapreneurs have shared, the key to their success has been that they were able to combine their entrepreneurial thinking and mindset with some corporate-savviness. Above all, it’s not something just available for Richard Branson and the likes – it’s possible for all of us, you and me. It requires the decision to start and the commitment to succeed, which all of you at this blog have, right?

For young professionals looking to do more meaningful work, have a bigger impact and boost their careers, I suggest you follow Richard Branson’s advice: start intrapreneuring! If you’re not sure where to start and how to do it, have a look at our upcoming course. It might just be your ticket to corporate freedom.

 

Hans Balmaekers founded sa.am to become the #1 resource for people in their 20's and 30's who care about ourfuture and want to make a difference, on developing the mindset and skills to be change makers. In August, sa.am launches an online Intrapreneurship course to set up aspiring and starting intrapreneurs for success.

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