Entrepreneurs or Intrapreneurs.. At the end of the day we are all sailors.
A year and a half ago I founded GenNEXT UK, the British hub of a global internal community of employees interested in harnessing generational insights to contribute to the company’s strategic objectives while enhancing the millennial workplace experience.
It all started two months after joining the organisation when reading on the US intranet that three millennial employees in New York had set up an ERG (Employee Resource Group) to “win from within”. I contacted them and enquired to join the network and the outcome of the discussion was that I not only wanted to join, I wanted to create a similar structure in the UK as well as expend the existing community. Next I convinced the UK President Managing Director to back my ambitious endeavor.
Fast forward almost two years of drive, tenacity and rule-breaking the UK region has added 350+ forward thinkers to the global community of GenNEXTers making it the second largest hub after New York. A co-chair and 14 committee members have joined me on the British leadership team while I was appointed to co-run the Global Community with my partner in crime sitting across the atlantic as the 3 New York millennial founders decided to step down.
We keep challenging the group to re-invent itself to stay ahead of the curve and have embarked change makers in the four corners of the world with hubs in Toronto, LA, Chile, Mexico, London, Shanghai and Seoul amongst other cities. Since day one we have always believe in inclusion & diversity and empowered others to lead from every chair as our community is bottom-up.
While GenNEXT has now made a name for itself in the organisation both in the UK and globally, it was not (and still not is) easy to challenge the status quo and a change initiator.
Looking at my path so far it is clear that I am an intrapreneur but my aversion to corporate processes and benchmarking way of thinking made me question: is it better the be an entrepreneur or intrapreneur? The answer: it’s just different and not comparable. Both are change makers and some similar skills are required but one is attempting to change the system from within while the other is trying to challenge it from the outside.
As I read far too many business articles I see the private sector landscape as an ocean.
In this ocean you have boats of all sizes but at the two opposite ends of the spectrum are a sailboat and a tanker.
The entrepreneur being the captain of the sailboat and the intrapreneur a crewman on a tanker.
The opportunities and threats of the entrepreneur mostly depend on exogenous factors:
On the one hand, a sailboat can feel the wind and its size gives the skipper the agility to pivot quickly without a lot of resources.
On the other end, the captain of the sailboat has to be alert at all time and could sink because of a tumultuous sea or an unforeseen storm It can also be outpaced by other sailboats or even crush by a cruise ship or tanker.
However being in a small team the captain is not so much affected by internal factors.
At the other end of the spectrum lies the intrapreneur, or a crewman on a tanker.
The crewman doesn’t fear the weather, the sea, or the presence of other boats in the ocean (on a short/medium term perspective that is) and could sit comfortably on the deck. It also calls for more effort to sense the wind on a tanker. It’s not intuitive since it’s a motorboat.
But let’s imagine one of the crewman is an intrepid millennial who is naïve enough to think he/she can rally the troops and create an army of benevolent rebels. This individual will need to simultaneously:
1. Sneak their way to the cockpit or engine room, playing hide and seek with higher lever officers.
2. Convey a compelling message to other crewmen and strive to convince others to unite to support her/him in moving the tanker.
In other terms the crewman must face endogenous challenges.
Once this is done if they get to the captain or sneak to the engine room and touch a machine then the alteration to the tanker direction will be infinitesimal. But if you’ve ever seen a tanker like I have seen in Hong Kong passing close to south of the island near Stanley you will have seen the powerhouse that it is.
A tanker sets the pace and if it changes its direction by a even millimetre in the long run this translates in drastic modification of destination. The crewman will have made an entire crew and its shipment move and set sail towards a new terminus.
Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs, we’re all sailors.
We’re just not in the same boat!