Most people know Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken, yet few realize the significance of his words or its true meaning. In the final stanza the poem says, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” We tend to interpret the poem to mean that choosing the path less traveled will make a difference.
Not so. According to Christina Sterbenz, “People wrongfully interpret this as evidence of the payoff for freethinking and not following the crowd, when it actually comments about people finding meaning in arbitrary decisions.” It’s about finding meaning in whatever path you choose.
David Haglund interprets it to be about choice. “At the heart, this poem is about choice: how one decision can change a person’s entire life.” The poem actually describes two paths that are equally traveled and appealing but which head in different directions. It is only upon reflection that Frost describes the road as being less traveled and then describes it as a defining moment of life.
Frost’s biographer Lawrance Thompson looks at it from this angle, “The critical “regret” analysis supports the interpretation that this poem is about the human tendency to look back and attribute blame to minor events in one’s life, or to attribute more meaning to things than they may deserve.” In this case Frost expresses gratitude for the road chosen. The regret, not being able to choose both roads or see where the other path would have led.
All of these interpretations shed a new light on the meaning behind the poem. They also serve to better illuminate the intrapreneur’s journey – the path they take, the choices they make, and the difference it creates. Perhaps not in the way we originally thought.
· Free thinking and not following the crowd are key attributes of intrapreneurs. It is in doing them that Intrapreneurs actually create meaning. Finding something is by chance. Creating something is deliberate.
· Choosing to be an intrapreneur is a choice. Inherent in this decision is the belief that it will change their life in a positive, more rewarding way. It is an attitude, a way of thinking and acting.
· Regret is not something that intrapreneurs reflect on. It is the journey itself that is the reward. In learning, growing, making a difference and adding value. They don’t regret something they did, they try and make it better. They only regret it if they don’t try.
Despite the actual interpretation of The Road Not Taken, I often use Frost’s poem to describe intrapreneurs. They do take the road less traveled by choice.
The fork in the road is a symbol of the critical junctures we all face in deciding what direction to go when a situation presents itself. Do you take the easy road, the known road, the less risky road, the more challenging road, the more meaningful road or do you let your circumstances take you where they may.
Your answer to these questions may be the key to unlocking your own intrapreneurial journey.
Easy Road: Intrapreneurs do not do what they do because it is easy but because it is hard. They know that the traditional path is not working and that there has to be another way. There are no roadmaps or guidebooks for them to follow. They are creating a new way forward. They will do whatever it takes. They are pioneers charting a new course. They take the hard road.
Known Road: Intrapreneurs by nature are curious and they are willing to explore the unknown – they see it as a field of possibilities. Experience is important but experience itself can get in the way. It can shift the focus in the wrong direction. Intrapreneurs believe that the only way to find a solution is to look at all their options. They prefer to work with a blank canvas. They take the unknown road.
Less Risky Road: Intrapreneurs take calculated risks by weighing the upside and downside of a decision before making it. They understand the inherent risk in doing something that has never been done before. They evaluate their decisions based on what they are willing to risk at what cost. They want to maximize value while managing risk. They are effective risk managers. They take the road with the most manageable risk.
More Challenging Road: Intrapreneurs love to be challenged. They are like mountain climbers. Once you climb a mountain you want to climb a higher more difficult one next time. The bigger the better. It is the excitement of the challenge that keeps them motivated. They want to work in an environment where they can continually learn. They need to be challenged to stay engaged. They take the most challenging road.
Meaningful Road: Intrapreneurs focus on work that has meaning to themselves, their organizations and society at large. They are energized by doing something that delivers financial and social value. They are focused on the greater good. Not what’s in it for them but what does it mean for others. They look for opportunities where they can make a difference. They want to make a contribution. They take the most meaningful road.
Let Circumstances Take You: Intrapreneurs take charge of their own growth and development. They are not willing to wait until the organization offers them an opportunity. They proactively seek out opportunities where they can stretch and grow. They are reluctant to wait to see how things unfold. They will make course corrections when the path forward is not clear. They are patient to a point. They find their own path forward. They don’t let circumstances take them where they may.
If these statements ring true for you perhaps you are already an intrapreneur. Intrapreneurs take the road less traveled because it is what they need to do to be highly effective and productive. They wouldn’t have it any other way.
In taking the road less traveled Intrapreneurs are not only exploring new opportunities for their organizations they are exploring the breadth and depth of their own capabilities. It is about free thinking and not following the crowd. It is also about choosing to live with your choice and having no regrets no matter what happens.
What about you, are you taking the road less traveled or are you playing it safe?