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Who Wants to Be a Wellness Intrapreneur? Part II: Do You Have the Right Stuff?

in-tra-pre-neur (In¹tre-pre-nur) n. A person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation [intra(corporate) + (ENTRE)PRENEUR.] -inftrapre-nouri-al adj. -intra-pre-neuri-al-ism n. -in’trapre-neuri-al-ly adv.

Position Statement:

To survive and thrive, an intrapreneur must learn the fine art of…

  • adapting without assimilating
  • maintaining a cutting edge without getting cut
  • irritating and innovating without alienating key influentials and check signers
  • thinking like a CFO without losing the dreams and passion of a visionary
  • nurturing passion, dedication and caring without attaching
  • respecting history & tradition without sacrificing his/her “Beginner’s Mind”
  • bowing out before getting thrown out



 Challenges & Opportunities:  The Intrapreneurial “Right Stuff” 

 So the question is, “Do you have what it takes to be an intrapreneur?” Let’s expand a bit on the previous list of survival and “thrival” criteria.

  • Adapting without Assimilating

A bit of nit-picking here but there is a critical incremental difference between adaptation and assimilation. Adaptation is a survival condition whereby an individual learns the customs and practices of a culture without necessarily assuming the attitude and beliefs of the culture. Full assimilation occurs when the mores and values of two or more—once unique—cultures meld into one new entity that is indistinguishable from the other.

If you have ever experienced a situation, group or culture that you initially considered (sensed or thought) was wrong, odd or dangerous only to gradually view that same situation, group or culture as normal and desirable, take caution—you have assimilated.  It may signal that you have compromised your values, ethics, morals and sensibilities in exchange for acceptance and security. Before taking any action you may regret, pay attention to all of your senses and listen to all of your internal voices. You know what I’m talking about. The gut feeling that says, “Slow down: danger ahead!”  And the heavy heart sensation that tells you that you are about to swim outside the roped area.

Can you

 Adapt without assimilating?      Yes ____  No ____  Not Sure  ____

  • Maintaining a Cutting Edge without Getting Cut            

Supported by time-bracketed security in the form of salary and benefits, intrapreneurs are handed a stack of cash from the company treasury and tasked with bringing back more than they are given. They are to do this by launching a new subsidiary company offering new products or creating and bringing to market new core company products.  In either case, it must enhance the parent company’s consolidated financials.  This requires new thinking, guts, bold initiatives and a pioneer’s desire to explore dangerous and lightly traveled or virgin territory.

Paraphrasing President Kennedy when he announced America’s race to the moon, intrapreneurs are given their task not because it is easy, but because it is hard, because the goal will serve to organize and measure the best of a company’s energies and skills, and because the challenge is one that the company is willing to accept, one they are unwilling to postpone, and one that they intend to win. The intrapreneurs in charge of this task must be willing, if needed, to toss out old ideas, staff, policies and procedures.  They must be willing to view much of the current state as antiquated baggage good only for salvaging useable parts for a new system.  They must not only be comfortable but relish the role of kicking up lunar dust rather than eating someone else’s.

Can you

Maintain a cutting edge without getting cut? 

Yes ____  No ____  Not Sure  ____

  • Irritating and Innovating without Alienating Key Influentials and Check Signers

Disruptive innovation is risky business. Everyone supports innovation but few wish to be tagged as disruptive (think notes from your child’s teacher).  The Catch-22 is that disruption is the fuel of innovation; innovation without disruption is merely a political tweak, wink and nod. An intrapreneur must make noise, take risks and assume multiple roles including diplomat, irritant, fact-finder, mediator, myth-buster, vocal supporter and vocal dissenter.  You must not be afraid to risk upsetting the apple cart, break a few eggs, sacrifice a sacred cow or two, or tell the emperor to find a new tailor (fill in your own cliché).  As an intrapreneur, you are the irritating grain of sand that produces the nacre that builds the pearl.

Here’s the high-wire balancing part: to succeed at your job, you need to keep your job. Unless you sit at the top of the corporate food chain, you have to figure out a way to successfully build the new venture while making sure your efforts advance the overall mission of the organization as well as advancing the mission of those in charge.    As John Henry, co-owner of the Red Sox, says to Billy Beane in Money Ball,    “In their minds, it’s threatening the game; it’s threatening the way they do things.” Arrogance, petulance,   narcissism and hubris may work for a brilliant entrepreneur (think Steve Jobs), but these behaviors and attitudes will quickly bring HR and a security guard with a cardboard box to the office of a brilliant intrapreneur (think Steve Jobs).

Can you

Irritate and innovate without alienating key people?     

Yes ____  No ____  Not Sure  ____

  • Thinking Like a CFO without Losing the Dreams and Passion of a Visionary

Actually, DON’T think like them, for real, but DO try to get inside their heads and view your disruptive efforts from their perspective. Understand and be aware of how they think. Adapt but don’t assimilate. There is a reason why operations and sales are clearer and quicker paths to the CEO office than finance. Rare is the CFO who can think past fiscal Q4 in any given year. While I don’t have Henry Ford’s legendary disdain for accountants, I do believe that they have too much influence in business, particularly in imposing a short-term focus on current profits. Said Ford, and I agree, “Chasing the immediate dollar inevitably breaks up service to yield short-term profits at the expense of longer-term interests in product and process development and customer relations.”

Quoting from, Henry Ford:  Critical Evaluations in Business and Management by John Cunningham Wood and Michael C. Wood, “Ford thought that financiers in business suffered from a form of myopia that saw no further than the dollars and cents involved and failed to comprehend the real activities and needs that underlay them. This superficial approach would lead a business into many errors—most particularly a continuing attempt to extract profits from the business rather than reinvest them in product, process or market development that was essential to business survival and prosperity.”

Yes, indeed, accountants are necessary; without them most intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs would find themselves out on the street or stocking shelves at Walmart. Therefore, you MUST learn to understand their language, motivation and their rationale. Visionaries and accountants are locked in an odd-couple symbiotic dance of survival and thrival. One is driven by intuitive thinking, dreams and poetry; and the other by rational thinking, facts and pragmatism. Business—and the world at large—needs both. Without pragmatists, we would all starve to death, and without poets, we would all die of boredom while standing knee-deep in a stagnant pool of wouldas, couldas and shouldas.

Can you

Understand how a CFO thinks without thinking like a CFO?        

Yes__  No__  Not Sure __

  • Nurturing Passion, Dedication and Caring without Attaching               

Wow, this is a tough one for the intrapreneur.  You may not own it but it’s yours—this new business, product, venture—it’s yours.  Just like the entrepreneur, you eat, breathe, sleep and will it into existence. You bring it into the world, nurture it, protect it from bullies and see it through those rough times when others tell you, “I told you it couldn’t work, here” and “Nice try … but, let it go.” You might have heard doomsday forecasts and advice swimming around in your own mind: “What, am I crazy?” “Maybe they are right and I am wrong!” “The CFO was spot on. What the hell AM I doing here?”

To achieve your goals (and the goals of the owner) all of this emotion has to be tempered with the reality that it is the honor of your work that matters, not the product or company. Independent of anything, your attachment must be to the integrity of your efforts and purity of your intentions. These you do own and they can never be taken away.

Can you

Nurture passion, dedication and caring without attaching? 

Yes__  No__  Not Sure __

  • Respecting History and Tradition without Sacrificing Your “Beginner’s Mind”         

 “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities,

in the expert’s there are few.”

 –              Suzuki Roshi

Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind

“Because that’s how it’s done, here.”

“Oh, no; Ronnie would never approve!”

“Huh, just wait until you’ve been here for a while.”

“Nope, we tried that a couple years back.  It won’t work.”

“Where are you from, again?”

When you are asked to create something new and different inside an organization, you are really being asked to help change the company’s direction and, often, the culture, as well—a culture anchored by history, tradition, service ribbons, legacy seats in the lunchroom and yellowing company picnic photos on the walls.  And, by the way, a lot of this tradition centers around fund-raising, celebrations and food.  Oh, and when I say “food,” I am not talking fruits and vegetables.

Donuts for Diabetes

One of my most memorable “Stranger in a Strange Land” moments in Rhode Island—there were many over the years—occurred early in my tenure as “The Wellness Guy” at Blue Cross.  As I was leaving my office, I saw and heard a smiley, happy, chatty gathering of staff in the small plaza in front of our building. It was a lovely spring day in late May with perennials blooming alongside freshly planted groupings of petunias, pansies and geraniums.   Nice, very nice. A Renoir painting and a Browning poem rolled into one.  What is this all about? Did I miss a bulletin?

As I smiled and greeted my new colleagues, I couldn’t help but notice napkins, brushed crumbs, smacking lips and finger-licking hygiene.  It was an old-fashioned bake sale—pies, cakes, donuts, brownies, cupcakes, cookies. A bake sale. Okay, Calm down, I told myself. Don’t be THAT health promotion person.  I was still a newbie and a foreigner to boot (from Michigan), in the eyes of these New England pilgrims. Calm down. There’s plenty of time for conversion, I thought. After all, I just got here. Deep breath. Deep breath.  And then I saw the sign.


After that, I can recall very little. Did I politely nod and walk on by? Did I leave some money for the cause but not take the “goodies”? Did I buy a dozen of mixed treats to take home? Did I treat my staff at the Health and Wellness Division? Or, as I suspect, did I reenact “Christ and the Money Changers” by pulling out my whip, overturning tables and cleansing the plaza of these defilers?  I’m not quite sure which scenario played out but the aftermath whispers in the halls of Blue Cross—even to this very day—suggest it might have been that last one.

Wrong move. Well, wrong move but perhaps the right message. These were good folks, really nice, caring and considerate people. Truly, their intentions were golden. They meant well. They only wanted to help.  It was a nice thing to do, raising the money for an important cause. A really nice thing to do.  I’m sure the American Diabetes Association was pleased with the donation.  Blah, blah, blah.

No, stop, sorry, I can’t go on like this. Deep breath.

“Donuts to stop disease” campaigns, while done for all the right reasons, are ill-advised, counter-productive and send the wrong educational message!  Please don’t sell refined sugars, trans fat, food coloring, preservatives and high-sodium products as part of your mix to raise money to fight diet-aggravated and diet-induced conditions like cancer, obesity, depression, heart disease and diabetes.

Hey, wait a minute, maybe that’s how I should have dealt with the situation.  I should have respected this tradition, acknowledged the intent and wrote a health awareness piece for the company newsletter. Then, as a member of the senior staff, advocate for employee policies that would advance a culture of health at Blue Cross. That said, the reenactment on the plaza that beautiful spring day put an end to Donuts for Diabetes at Blue Cross (at least while I was there).

As time went by, I learned to be more subtle and diplomatic.  I remembered the adages about old habits dying hard, Rome not being built in a day, one step at a time, and patience as a virtue.  I also never grew out of my beginner’s mind.  I questioned, queried, challenged, wondered, refused to accept dogma on faith, spoke out, went against the grain if it made sense to do so and refused to allow low probability to drown out limitless, infinite, possibility.

And I never again had to use my whip or overturn another table!

Can you

Respect tradition without sacrificing your “Beginner’s Mind?” 

Yes__  No__  Not Sure __


Coming Up …

PART III:                 Entrepreneur (Owner) vs. Intrapreneur (Custodian)

PART IV:                 When the Boon is Rejected

PART V:                   Time’s Up:  Knowing When to Turn Your Own Page

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