For the past year, I've been walking around the corridors of Optus sporting an unruly beard paired with sweet kicks. I’ve spent 10 minutes each day on our in-house arcade machine channelling John Stockton in NBA Jam *BOOMSHAKALAKA*. I’ve even spent a few hours this month trying to fly a drone into a bowl of Lego.
ARGH! The clichés make me gag. Is that really what it means to be an intrapreneur? Hipster beards and 90’s throwback-chic technology? Not really… it’s actually a combination of hard work, an endless struggle to stay fresh and very careful planning (beards optional).
Let me explain. I work in Yes Lab, which is Optus’ in-house product innovation lab. We primarily exist to build (or partner to build) the products of the future for Optus. And we do this by using the lean start-up methodology. Basically, we build minimum viable products (MVPs), launch them to market, get customer feedback then continuously improve the product.
Want in? Here are six things you should know.
1. Beware the tyranny of distance.
Ultimately, you exist to push products back into the business. This means that you can’t be too withdrawn during product development, or else you’ll find yourself with a product that nobody wants to own but you!
2. Protect your independence fiercely.
The thing about in-house innovators is that we risk being viewed as a dumping ground for non-mission critical projects. So if the business doesn’t have the bandwidth, it hands over the problem to us. But don’t get sucked into that trap… your work IS mission critical and you need to remember that. So while you do need to beware the tyranny of distance, a good intrapreneur will defend their autonomy jealously, so they can continue innovating products of the future.
3. Read the news.
As an in-house innovator, you’re expected to have heard about the latest tech trend or funding round before it gets forwarded to your inbox from a colleague (so you can respond with casual indifference “oh yeah, they’re based in Tel Aviv. Not sure how much traction they have”). Well, I actually think this attitude leads to the rampant inauthenticity and insecurity of the ‘innovation world’, so I try to spurn that behaviour. But being able to talk fluently about the latest trends, and a functional understanding of tech trends, will help you gain credibility and sift the wheat from the chaff – especially when you hit 5pm Friday and are trying to process the 30th idea you’ve heard that week.
4. Adopt productivity-based KPIs.
Not only it is hard to commit to in-year revenue targets in the innovation game, but doing so can really narrow your field of vision to short term focussed projects. But that being said, it’s an overly trusting boss who leaves an intrapreneur alone with an arcade machine without any KPIs to meet. So the solution is productivity based KPIs – how many ideas have you tested this year? How many MVPs have you built? How many customer focus groups have you run? You get the idea.
5. Build a team of T-shaped individuals.
Ok, so I’ve ripped this directly from this great piece on google x, but it’s a really great description of the type of individual who you need in a lab. It’s someone who can effortlessly apply their mind to a different industry or technology each day, and yet has a strong skill in a certain area – this breadth and depth allows them to contribute meaningfully to a product that has been selected for build. I’m from a strategy background, and tend to get involved in discussions on business model, market competitive dynamics etc, but others in the Yes Lab are skilled up in design, coding, digital, branding, copywriting etc. Between us, we like to think that we cover all bases!
6. Nobody puts baby in a corner! And nobody puts ideation into a process flow.
OK, I kind of just wanted to quote Dirty Dancing here. But I do get loads of people asking me how we come up with ideas in the lab. And the answer is, there’s no answer. Ideas come from unexpected places, with unexpected inspiration – it’s about connecting the dots and seeing where it will take you. Most ideas aren't totally new, but involve thinking about existing concepts differently, or finding a novel way to apply a known technology. Sometimes all you need to do is look back a decade in your own industry to uncover product ideas that can be dusted off and reincarnated. How might you re-purpose the core of the following constructs to come up with the next mobile phone product… off peak minutes? On net calling? Capped calls? It’s all about digging deep and keeping an open mind.
I hope by now I've convinced you that being an intrapreneur has a lot more to do with hard work than hipster stereotypes. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I've got a de-constructed flat white to order.