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Somebody has to do it. Innovating within a corporation can be dangerous work, and you may find it rewarding – even if it could cost your job.

The cost of not innovating has never been higher, but far too many corporations are resistant, and the urgency tends to slam into what consultant Gregory Larkin calls the “Wall of Can’t.”

Still, you can win because the Wall of Can’t is porous and brittle. “It’s not driven by inability or impossibility, and certainly not by efficiency. In reality, it is fuelled by fear and reinforced by dogma,” he writes.

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Here are five principles to follow:

  • Innovation only works when it’s urgent; intrapreneurs will catalyze incredible change when they focus on a problem their company must solve but can’t. On the other hand, if you tackle something that is not mission-critical, you’ll find yourself isolated and adrift. “Crisis is fertile grounds for intrapreneurship to take root,” he says.
  • Never pitch an idea; always present an outcome. In a large company it’s easy to say no to an idea. “In fact, it’s subtly encouraged. Saying no makes an executive seem like a valiant defender of corporate values,” he writes. Nobody risks anything when they say no to an idea. So focus on the outcome, preferably with prototypes and examples.
  • The intrapreneur who acts alone will be fired and forgotten – you need to build a coalition. This is a big difference between intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs. In startups, an entrepreneur attracts like-minded pirates and they work together on a mission they share. In big corporations, most people wake up every day and want to stay out of trouble when they do their jobs. So you need to connect with a band of fellow intrapreneurs – specifically, three types. The “Godfather” is a powerful executive determined to bring the entity into an age of modernity, and has enough clout to neutralize obstructionists. The “secret society” is the strategists, developers, designers, thinkers and doers who are motivated by impact rather than security, wired to work in a startup but finding themselves in a large company. The “mercenaries” are external consultants who are willing to take risks and can nudge the effort along.
  • Don’t slow down: At some point, you will face tough choices about what to do next. This can be leading a new division, spinning off the product you have developed, quitting or getting fired. “The right exit strategy is one where you can sustain your momentum,” he says. That contrasts with the normal definition of victory: more face time with the CEO, more status or more money.
  • Build it in eight weeks: That sounds impossible, but if you don’t get it done in that time you never will, he insists. It will require a sprint and include one Godfather; at least two members of the secret society; external consultants, if possible; and a gatekeeper who decides which products get launched. In the first two weeks, make the product work; in the next two weeks, make it better; in the third period, make it stable; and in the fourth, polish the product and present it. Test it in each phase with users, but also at each stage have the Godfather ask other executives who support key assets to support the product.

It’s tough. It’s risky. You will need courage – lots of it – as you take a stand for what you believe. But he says “every person I’ve ever known who made that stand looks upon it as the most important turning point of their life. Even if they got fired afterwards.”

Change your game face

As a high-school football player, Nathan Magnuson learned that any time a team photo was being taken he wasn’t supposed to smile. Instead, he needed to show his menacing game face. Over time, as a consultant, that became the habit, presumably showing his seriousness and toughness.

But he now realizes that’s a mistake. And he urges you on his blog to join him in setting aside your game face for a smiling face. It signals:

  • You are a positive person.
  • You are self-confident, happy with who you are.
  • You care about the other person more than your own problems.
  • You are approachable, wanting to connect.
  • You are interested in collaborating, figuring things out together and working together.
  • You have the other person’s best interests in mind, and are committed to them.

He stresses that “there is a difference between a smile to get someone’s business and a smile to keep someone’s business. One is genuine and one isn’t. One is a long-term commitment and one is only short-term. The best smiles are the ones that last.”

If you’re a grouch, you will have to adapt. He shares the technique of one woman who forced herself to smile in the mirror while playing a YouTube video of a speech by the politician she most despised. She learned to smile on every occasion.

Smiling is more than a feel-good suggestion. He notes that investor Charles Schwab said his smile had been worth a million dollars. That may be extravagant. But Mr. Magnuson says more smiles will mean more dollars.

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Five principles for your life and career

Here are five principles Ottawa’s Shane Parrish shares on his popular Farnam Street blog:

  • Direction over speed
  • Live deliberately
  • Thoughtful opinions held loosely
  • Principles outlive tactics
  • Own your actions

Quick hits

  • When you arrive at your desk, take two minutes to sit quietly, says consultant Sona Jepson. Focus on your breathing and connecting with your body. Start the day from a place of stillness and over time you will return to that state more easily.
  • Set a self-imposed deadline for every task you want to complete, says freelance writer Dakota Murphey.
  • Jerry Seinfeld says the reason Seinfeld was so successful was that whereas with most TV series 50 per cent of the time is spent working on the show and 50 per cent on issues of personality, politics and hierarchy, he and collaborator Larry David shut the door to the outside world and spent 99 per cent of their time writing. 
  • Confine yourself to no more than six to eight lines and six to eight words per Power Point slide, says consultant Sherry Knight.
  • Carrot is an iOS to-do list with personality that will give you a nudge toward your goals with rewards for completion, but warns “you don’t want to make me upset.” It made Blue Oceans PR’s top 16 small-business apps of 2018. 

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