Ep. 322 – Identifying and Supporting Intrapreneurs with Louis Gump, Author of The Inside Innovator

Ep. 322 – Identifying and Supporting Intrapreneurs with Louis Gump, Author of The Inside Innovator

On this week’s episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Louis Gump, author of the new book, The Inside Innovator. Louis and I talk about his experiences at The Weather Channel and CNN Mobile, as well as a myriad of topics for helping companies better identify and support inside innovators. Let’s get started.

Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help new innovators navigate what’s next. Each week we’ll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today’s world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It’s time to get started.

Interview Transcript with Louis Gump, Author of The Inside Innovator

Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger, and as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Louis Gump. He’s the author of the new book, The Inside Innovator: A Practical Guide to Intrapreneurship. Welcome to the show, Louis.

Louis Gump: Thanks, Brian. It’s great to be here.

Louis GumpBrian Ardinger: Super excited to have you on the show. Another inside innovator to talk more about what it takes to move the ball forward in today’s corporate climate. Before we get to the book, I want to start a little bit about your background and that. I understand you worked in bigger corporations, Weather Channel, for example, and CNN Mobile, and you earn your chops trying to launch new products and services inside big companies. So, let’s give the audience a little bit of background about how you got here.

Louis Gump: Thanks for asking. I did have the opportunity to work with the mobile team at the Weather Channel. I led the team that launched the Weather Channel’s iPhone app and Android app. And then along the way there was an opportunity to work with CNN. And so once again, our really talented and hardworking team launched CNN’s iPhone app and Android app and we kind of took it from there and built the business. There are many other parts to those stories.

And then along the way, I’ve also had a chance to be CEO of two smaller companies. Those experiences gave me an awesome vantage point to understand some of the differences between being an intrapreneur inside a larger company or an inside innovator versus an entrepreneur and leading a small one. And it led to some insights and some observations that, Hey, you know, there are a few things I wish somebody had told me along the way, and so I wanted to write the book.

Brian Ardinger: Intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship are oftentimes misunderstood or even mis defined, or people have different pictures of what innovation is, and that, let’s start there. How would you define intrapreneurship versus entrepreneurship and how does that compare to innovation?

The Inside Innovator, Louis GumpLouis Gump: Sure. So just to start with a definition. Intrapreneurship is the practice of creating value through innovation and growth inside a larger organization. And on the other hand, entrepreneurship, at least in general, and you can find different ways to define it, but it involves either owning a company or starting a company and being in a role where you can call a lot of the shots.

And so, when you look at some of the distinctions, here are a few. One is the size and complexity of the organizations. Another one is the span of control and influence of the leader of an organization, and I suspect from some of the things I’ve listened to in your podcast, there are many people who could go on about that for a long time.

The third one is access to resources within a larger organization, sometimes we look at entrepreneurship versus intrapreneurship, and we have a value judgment. Some people may be better, some people may be worse. I tend to toss the value judgments in the trash bin. I don’t think they belong really in the center of the conversation, it’s really rather what’s most appropriate for a situation.

And one of the really wonderful things about working in a large organization is you tend to have some resources and use, well, they can accelerate progress and help you go farther. Also, the structure and the approval processes or something that goodness knows, you could write many books on the ups and downs of this. And then lastly, the risk profile for the person who takes these sorts of things on. Not just as a generic topic, but also at a point in time.

Brian Ardinger: Some of the things that we talk about, and I like in your book, you kind of have a broader definition or scope when it comes to intrapreneurship or innovation. I think a lot of people, when they hear the word innovation or entrepreneurship, they think they have to come up with the next flying car, transformational type of outcome.

But it sounds like you have the agreement where it can be anything. It can be optimizing your existing business process. It’s creating something new, but it doesn’t, doesn’t have to be transformational from what we’ve seen in the past. Is that kind of the way you see it?

Louis Gump: A hundred percent. It’s about creating value and it’s about contribution. It’s less about necessarily how transformative the change is. In the book, there’s a story of someone who became really good at repairing diesel locomotives, you know, trains. And you think about that at some level, that is so important to the organization that cares about that. But it doesn’t exactly land somebody on the front page of a magazine on the other hand, typically anyway.

On the other hand, you can look at, you know, massive digital transformation. AI is a huge wave right now, it gets talked about. . And so you end up sometimes getting caught up in the technology as opposed to the benefit. And I would say, you know, a true intrapreneur, someone who I refer to as a successful serial intrapreneur, they’re always focusing on contribution and creating value.

Brian Ardinger: Let’s talk about why it’s important. Obviously, you mentioned AI and transformational things that are happening out there in the marketplace. Technology’s changing. Markets are changing and that. Why is it important for companies to even foster or think about creating an environment where entrepreneurship can be possible?

Louis Gump: You know, I think this topic is sometimes underappreciated, especially in organizations that are very strong. They have good cash flow. They have good products. They’re kind of moving along at a modest rate of growth a year, but it’s healthy and that sort of thing. And it’s really about the future. When you think about the future of a company, it’s essential, at least over a, you know, sizable period of time.

There are four findings that I have included in the book, and it ended up being in the conclusion. What happened was I wrote the book, had a fairly distinct chapter sequence that I wanted to follow through on, and then I was reading what emerged from the writing process and I was like, oh my gosh, there are some really clear answers to the question you just posed.

The first one is that intrapreneurs inside innovators, they push organizations to adapt. Sometimes they’re not always smiled on. Right. Sometimes they’re the disruptor, the squeaky wheel, the distraction, or whatever else you might point to. But a lot of the times, especially when someone understands the culture of an organization. They are a powerful catalyst to adapt and change.

The second one, and this one I anticipated a little bit less, although in hindsight it’s pretty obvious. They train the next generation of leaders. The people who take on these new and emerging businesses tend to grow the skills and get the exposure to the things that matter most to the company. And when they do that and they climb a few mountains, all of a sudden, they’re a really good mountain climber and that’s valuable to many organizations.

The third one is they create transformative growth opportunities for entrepreneurs. This one also, I didn’t go into the book thinking, oh, this is going to be a lot about the success of entrepreneurs, but it turned out that over and over again in my interviews, stories about how someone who’s an inside innovator relied on an entrepreneur, someone with a smaller company, with a cutting-edge technology or a new service. To help them achieve their goal. So, it’s a very symbiotic relationship.

And lastly, it’s about driving value creation within the organization. One of the interviews I did gave me a lot of clarity on this, and this leader said, you know, the types of initiatives we’re talking about, we’re a really big company. The types of initiatives we’re talking about are typically less than 1% of the revenue of our organization at any given time. However, they might be the future biggest revenue stream, right?

So, when you think about that, and not just in terms of quarterly earnings reports or this year’s budget or whatever it is, and instead you think about the future of an organization and serving customers, it’s quite powerful.

So, let’s talk a little bit about how do companies, if they’re, you know, again looking to try to engage and, and creative and foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship within their walls. How can companies first find those folks within their walls? And then how do they cultivate them to actually be the best at it?

Louis Gump: Finding those people often doesn’t take a lot of work. It takes opening your eyes and listening and it takes listening to the people who are coming up with new angles on ways to serve customers. It takes looking around the organization for people who seem to be excelling. Sometimes it’s the person who’s made a budget proposal three times and you know, was rejected every time.

Either they’re on the wrong track or maybe they’re on the right track and it just didn’t match with the priorities at that point. There’s another, a little more structured way to do it, and that is by looking at specific characteristics that emerge as requirements really of successful intrapreneurs.

Curiosity, in my experience and research is the number one, if somebody isn’t curious, if they don’t want to learn things, they don’t know if they aren’t kind of poking around the edges, if they insist on being efficient a hundred percent of the time and doing things only that they know they’re going to succeed. They’re the wrong person for this job. But somebody who’s really curious and engaged, that’s something that’s important.

Another one is action oriented. And it goes back to what you asked before about, you know, what’s the definition? These are people who create value. They aren’t just tinkerers. They could be tinkerers, but they also care about getting things done.

And another one that’s really important is bridge building. I would imagine that a whole lot of people who are listening to this podcast can imagine a time where they had a good idea or an initiative that should work, but then for whatever reason, some important person in the process or some department or group just wasn’t aligned.

In a large organization, all it takes is one to be stopped cold, and so somebody who can build bridges and understand how to work within the organization and how to build essentially a coalition of people who will help achieve goals that are important to the organization. Those are good ways to get started.

Brian Ardinger: And that’s a very important topic. If you think about it, there’s so many antibodies that can stop new things from happening within an organization and protect the core business model that’s been around and is actually making money for the company, et cetera. So it’s the uphill battle to a large extent. Have you seen any good examples of how companies can better incentivize folks to take more risks or become more entrepreneurship leaning?

Louis Gump: Sure. You can have hard incentives, such as rewards for new ideas, funding for these ideas, even in compensation, ways to incentivize the behavior where we are creating new value. Some of it is as straightforward as you know, operational milestones or revenue targets. Other ones are a little more imaginative in terms of just having ideas and percolating within the organization.

There are several companies I’m aware of. They have long-term incentive plans and long-term incentive plans help to define a future outcome that requires certain milestones of growth. And when you hit those growth milestones, then you know something good happens in your compensation on down the road. That has the added benefit of getting people to think longer term.

And then lastly, I would add that in terms of team incentives. You can talk about visible milestones, you can talk about ROI and whatnot, but a lot of things relate to how people interact in teams. And so, if there are incentives for people to understand the culture of a company and live that culture while delivering, also value, that produces, you know, quite a lot of interesting results and it goes underneath the surface.

Brian Ardinger: Well, let’s dig into the book. Talk about some of the maybe examples of companies or projects that you’ve come across that highlight this embracing of intrapreneurship and some of the results that have happened from it.

Louis Gump: Sure. Well, one that I’m personally familiar with is at the Weather Channel with the mobile business. And in that case, we started in around 2001, feels like a long time ago now, but it’s also so clear in the memories of many of us. We said, hey, that desktop web thing that’s taken off, we think mobile’s going to be big someday.

And we started experimenting around the edges and some things worked and some didn’t. There are generations of apps, some people listening may remember Java and Brew and Windows and Symbian on mobile devices. And that was essentially an earlier generation before the iPhone and the Android ecosystems came around.

And one of the things that we learned is by becoming really good at mobile, early on, we had the people and the knowledge and the infrastructure to really take off when the larger platforms came around. Another example that I give in the book, and this is actually one of failure that turned into success. It’s with ESPN, and I didn’t work on the ESPN team, but I worked closely with them and at one point we had a partnership for an initiative that they were starting called Mobile ESPN.

It was a wireless carrier. An MVNO, A mobile virtual network operator, where ESPN was going to offer handsets directly to consumers. And they did. And what they found is that people wanted to come to ESPN more for the sports than to be a wireless carrier. That didn’t work, and they lost a lot of money at that, but what they gained was tremendous knowledge.

A team of people who then parlayed that into industry preeminence for many years. So one of the things that I want to underscore here is that any company that insists on succeeding at every venture probably is going to fail most of the time at entrepreneurship over a longer period. But a company that understands that trying things and then folding learning into the future is a really good and healthy way to retain industry preeminence and industry strength, and ultimately the ability to serve customers.

Brian Ardinger: I mean, that’s a huge point. I think oftentimes companies fall into the trap of, they don’t understand the exploration side of things. They treat the exploration of a new idea as if it was a full-blown, fully understood business model or, or something like that. And fundamentally, when you start something brand new, there’s a lot of unknowns and a lot of things that you don’t know how to, how to navigate, unlike what you do on a daily basis with your existing business model.

So that push and pull between exploration and execution. Difficult for a lot of companies to kind of overcome and to understand what’s going on. Have you seen any particular types of organizations that are better at managing that exploration versus execution mode?

Louis Gump: Yes. However, the definition of types needs to be looked at a little bit. Because I haven’t seen areas of distinctive entrepreneurship based on industry necessarily. I haven’t seen it based on geography necessarily. What I have seen is where you have at least a couple of things that happen inside the company. One of them is that this idea of innovation is included in the culture of the company.

And so, you know, going in that part of what we do. Is to innovate and find new ways to serve customers. Another one is processes. It’s critically important. Any company that’s using the same processes to approve budgets and initiatives for really large mature lines of business. They’re using the same one for the small ones. That’s a pretty good sign. You’re going to have a hard time innovating.

And another one that I’d point out, and I’ve seen it in person and also it came up in my research over and over again for the book, was the C-level Executives have to walk the talk. Now, this is not just for-profit organizations. It could be for charitable nonprofits, it could be for schools, it could be for other types of organizations.

But whoever the most senior leader or really 2, 3, 4, 5 leaders are, if they are emphasizing the importance of this as part of the culture and the operations of the organization, it’s going to be more successful. One person mentioned to me that, hey, we are a really big company. Our CEO took a full day of his time to come to an innovation day just to see what a number of different parts of the organization were doing to create the future. When you see something like that, you can have a hint that maybe this company is onto something.

Brian Ardinger: Yeah, you definitely have to have that buy-in because if not, again, the antibodies of the existing organization often hurt the new thing that’s trying to come up and make some change. I think the last question I wanna talk about is in the area of how do you go about when it comes to talent, both identifying it, hiring for it, and cultivating intrapreneurship type of talent.

Louis Gump: So this is one of my favorite topics, and for all sorts of obvious reasons, it’s critically important. I listened to the podcast that you did with Lisa Lutoff Perlo, and she was talking about the importance of culture in her hiring. And for starters, I would say as you’re looking for someone who can innovate, you also want someone who can work well within the organization.

In my experience, you can have someone who comes in who’s new. You can have someone who’s been with the company for a long time. However, it’s very helpful if as part of the initiative, you’ve got someone closely connected, essentially in the nucleus of this initiative, who knows the organization really well and has been around for years.

That almost always, helps things to move faster. So as you’re thinking about assembling a team, thinking about different points of view is really valuable. You know, do we have someone who, on the one hand has been with the company for a while? On the other hand, someone who’s maybe thinking in new ways.

Do we have someone who has technical expertise, but do we have someone who has sales expertise? Do we have someone who is more focused on internal operations than someone who is circulating out in the industry? When you have different points of view, that really helps to compose a team. Next, and I’ll go back to what we discussed about the attributes.

In my research, I found 16 attributes that are really important for intrapreneurs. And once you understand those, there’s top five that are basically essential, but other ones that are helpful, and my observation on this is no wonder it’s hard. It’s because you have to be multi-skilled, multi-talented in a lot of cases to have sustained success.

So, if you understand the attributes that work best for intrapreneurs and then you understand the culture of your organization and you essentially do a mashup, that’s when you start to become really skilled at ongoing innovation and intrapreneurship.

For More Information

Brian Ardinger: Louis, I loved having this conversation. Thank you for coming on Inside Outside Innovation, to share your wisdom and, and insights of what’s going on out there in the real world. If people want to find out more about yourself or your book or anything about that, what’s the best way to do that?

Louis Gump: Thank you. The best way is to go to my website at louisgump.com, L-O-U-I-S-G-U-M P.com. I can also be found easily on LinkedIn, and in addition to that for the book, I’d love it if folks are curious about this, they can buy the book. We just launched it on March the 12th, and we are really seeing some nice success. It’s been an Amazon bestseller. We’ve been named a number one new release in Organizational change, and the audio book just launched last week, so we’re really excited to have different formats too.

Brian Ardinger: Well, I encourage our audience to pick up a copy of the Inside Innovator and connect with Louis Gump. Thanks for coming on the show.

Louis Gump: Thanks so much, Brian. I’ve enjoyed it.

Brian Ardinger: That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.


Get the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HERE.  You can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.

For more innovations resources, check out IO’s Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  Amazon Affiliate links for books. Transcripts done through Descript Affiliate.

Share Episode

The Feed

Episode 322

Ep. 322 – Identifying an...