Are you hardwired to be an Intrapreneur? That was a question that came up in a discussion at a luncheon of experienced women intrapreneurs.
All these women had successful careers, but they did it their way, on their terms. They didn’t let organizational barriers or obstacles get in their way. They looked at everything with a fresh perspective, always asking if there was a better way.
They were willing to question and challenge authority and the status quo. Just because the organization did something the same way for twenty years didn’t make it the best way, the most efficient way to do it. They would see an opportunity and go for it. They would identify a problem and find a solution. If they saw a need they created a service to address it. They took the initiative to do what was right.
When they were asked to explain why they did these things, a few of them said they were hardwired that way. “Hardwired asked one of the participants. What does that mean?” It means that you are conditioned to act in a certain way.
You look at everything as an opportunity to do something better, faster or more effectively. You are willing to experiment, test your ideas. You react to situations by keeping an open mind. You take a stand and stick out your neck for what you believe. Right or wrong you learn from the experience.
Your peers sit back and watch what you are doing. They think your ideas are crazy, impossible or will never fly. They may even ask you if you are crazy. Yes, it seems that being labeled crazy has become a rite of passage for Intrapreneurs.
One participant said that her organization thought that what she was doing was crazy. The rest of the group nodded and acknowledged the comment. They too had similar experiences. The group assured her that having that label was a good thing. What it meant was that she was different and making a difference in her organization.
All our lives we are programmed to fit in to a world that is stable and predictable, but the world is anything but that today. Growing up we are educated and guided to fit into a certain mold. Our institutions provide structures, processes, and practices to abide by that may have worked in the past but will fail in the future. Most individuals are ill prepared to deal with the new environment. Many will need to be reprogrammed to fit into the future.
Intrapreneurs on the other hand are wired for this new world. The way they think, and act are signs that they are hardwired differently. Something in their past, some experience enables them to look at the world through a different lens. They see possibilities.
There is usually something in their past, some part of their work experience or even their education that enables them to think and act differently.
One intrapreneur talked about her background in developing new products for a small startup firm. When the startup was eventually acquired, she left with a wealth of experience. Then she joined a large financial services company where she leveraged her entrepreneurial skills. She wound up developing a series of new financial products and building a billion-dollar business for her company.
A second Intrapreneur started her career working for two of the most entrepreneurial companies at the time. Both companies left an entrepreneurial imprint that stayed with her throughout her career. Being entrepreneurial was the only way she knew how to work. It was the foundation for her success. Building multi-million businesses for the companies she worked for.
Another intrapreneur went to an innovative and progressive school that encouraged students to explore new things. There was no formal curriculum, the school allowed students to gravitate toward things that interested them. Working on new and creative projects is what motivated this Intrapreneur and made her a successful intrapreneurial leader.
A majority of Intrapreneurs develop their entrepreneurial skills by raising their hands to work on the most challenging problems and opportunities. No opportunity is too big to tackle, no problem too difficult to solve. Intrapreneurs use these types of experiences to learn and develop new capabilities. They are rewiring their brain to think and act differently.
What does it really mean to be hardwired? That was the question that the women intrapreneurs meeting that day had raised.
The term wired and rewired are terms that are often used as metaphors. We know that our brains are not made of wires, “Doing something over and over again doesn’t just make it easier. It changes the brain. That may not come as a surprise but exactly how that happens has long been a mystery” according to Alison Pearce Stevens, in her article Learning Rewires the Brain.
Our brains contain about 100 billion neurons that store information and communicate between each other. When you learn something new, your neurons communicate with each other, making new connections. “That means that when you learn something new, your brain physically changes.”
Nathan Spreng, neuroscientist at Cornell University wanted to know how the brain changes as we learn. “At the beginning, you require a lot of focused attention. Learning to swing a bat requires a great deal of focus when you first try to hit the ball. But the more practice, the less you have to think about what you’re doing.”
The more something is practiced, the more connections are changed and made to include all elements of the experience (sensory information, movement, cognitive patterns). You can think of it as a ‘Master Controller’ created for a particular behavior which allows it to be performed with remarkable facility and reliability over time, according to the article, 10 Fundamentals of Rewiring Your Brain.
Intrapreneurs unknowingly have been rewiring their brains through the entrepreneurial experiences and tasks they have been performing. “As we learn something new, cells that send and receive information about the task become more and more efficient. In a sense, the neurons become wired together,” says Alison Pearce Stevens. You are creating new neural connections, patterns and networks in the brain.
According to neuroscientists, when we learn and experience something new it creates a chemical reaction that creates a memory. When you apply learning – you change your behavior. It is the learning that drives a change in your thinking and behavior. The type of experience makes a difference.
A report by McKinsey stated that only a small percentage of senior executives participate in innovation or entrepreneurial projects in their organization. As a result, they often rely on past experience to guide them. They are relying on the brain connections that already exist. Not creating new, innovative or entrepreneurial ones.
So, it is not surprising when one seasoned Intrapreneur told me “that the executives in her organization could not see what she said.” Their brains were not wired like hers because she had experiences that they could not relate to. They found it difficult to connect the dots the way she had. This disconnect turned into a learning experience for all of them.
There is scientific proof that learning, and the experience associated with learning (thought and action) are responsible in part for Intrapreneurs being hardwired differently. They have made a conscious choice to learn and in doing so they are changing the chemistry in their brains. They have rewired their brains. Rewired their actions. They have learned how to be an Intrapreneur.
The more Intrapreneurial experiences Intrapreneurs have the more networks and connections they make in their brain. They see patterns and connections that others might not.
No wonder that many of the women intrapreneurs meeting that day said that their organizations often called their ideas crazy. They weren’t crazy they just seemed crazy. The difference is how you see the world.
It may depend on if you are hardwired as an intrapreneur or not.