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3-Box Time Management: The Fourth Habit of Effective Intrapreneurs

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This is the fifth in a series of articles that describe the unique traits of a corporate intrapreneur.

The first three habits (productivity, initiative, and collaboration) are closely tied to idea generation.

The next three habits, when practiced properly at a corporation, can often lead to the successful delivery of ideas. Idea delivery is characterized by the creation of a product or service that provides value to a customer.

These first stages of delivery occur as part of a technique known as 3-box time management, which is depicted below.

Vijay Govindarajan (VG) is a Professor of International Business at Dartmouth College. He is the author and evangelist of the 3-box strategic approach to corporate innovation. Three-box innovation strategy dictates that the majority of corporate resources should be invested in the Box 1 diagram listed below: Manage the Present. This box represents the continued development of existing products to yield most of a corporation’s revenue. Employees supporting this box focus on existing customers and processes, and they continue to leverage their existing competencies. In essence, this box “funds” the development of innovation within a corporation. Some companies fall into the trap of spending close to 100 percent of their resources in this box.

Vijay advises corporations to allocate portions of their resources to Box 2 and Box 3 as well as tried-and-true Box 1. Box 2 selectively abandons the past by “forgetting” most of what is known about the products built in Box 1, including why they were built and whom they were built to satisfy. This break from tradition enables an innovator to take existing products into completely different markets.

Box 3 is a more radical approach to innovation. It completely ignores current processes and products and prominently targets the future.

The figure below applies this 3-box corporate framework to an intrapreneur’s use of his or her own time (note that the box titles change when applied to an individual).

Intrapreneurs can be most effective when they are delivering products as part of a business unit (as opposed to being a member of a research team in an ivory tower). Why? They often prefer to be in the trenches, where they can be highly productive, visiting customers, and collaborating with others. They are respected within their organizations for doing those very things.

Perhaps their most significant contribution to their business unit’s product line is funding their employment and that of their collaborators. They are squarely positioned in Box 1.

Spending all of their time in one area of expertise does not enable intrapreneurs to achieve success. Their natural curiosity and passion will not allow them to stay in only one place. They practice the discipline of limiting the amount of time they spend in Box 1.

By limiting the amount of time they spend in Box 1, intrapreneurs make time for Box 2 and/or Box 3 activities. They set aside the time to learn about customer issues. They set aside the time to explore adjacent technologies. They regularly meet with experts in adjacent fields and collaborate to dream up ideas of what might be possible. Most importantly, they begin to build out their ideas.

It is worth pointing out the difference between Box 2 and Box 3 intrapreneurial behavior. Box 2 behavior is characterized by Venn diagram innovation. The intrapreneur collaborates in the context of a well-defined customer problem.

Box 3 behavior is characterized by blue sky innovation: taking the initiative to learn new technologies and collaborate without necessarily starting with the context of a defined customer problem. Blue sky innovators may ask themselves and others, “What might this capability be used to do?” Answers to this question can result in breakthrough innovation. It is often the case that breakthrough innovation can be applied to customer problems they don’t yet know they have!

It is a difficult balancing act to regularly spend time outside of Box 1. It takes passion and persistence. But it is the very first step that a new intrapreneur must take to prove his or her worth!

Subsequent steps build on the important ability to manage one’s time well. Please consider subscribing to this blog for a discussion of the next phase of idea delivery: managing one’s visibility.

Twitter: @SteveTodd
EMC Intrapreneur

Collaboration: The Third Habit of Effective Intrapreneurs

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This is the fourth in a series of articles that describe the unique traits of a corporate intrapreneur.

Productivity is the foundational attribute of an intrapreneur. Initiative is a required next step. Neither of these attributes necessarily results in new ideas, and new ideas are of course an essential part of innovation.

Breakthrough ideas are often generated during the third step, which is depicted below as collaboration.

Intrapreneurs are, by necessity, highly collaborative. The reason they practice Habit #2 (initiative) is because they fully recognize their need for new knowledge. They don’t know all of the problems their current (or future) customers are experiencing, and they lack comprehensive knowledge of an adjacent sphere of technology that just might light an innovative spark of how to solve a problem differently.

To overcome these limitations, intrapreneurs collaborate. Perhaps the best way to illustrate intrapreneurial collaboration is with an actual story.

The e-book Innovate With Influence describes a collaborative effort to produce an idea that translated into multiple billions of dollars of product revenue. The idea was instrumental in giving rise to the adoption of disk array technology by mid-range corporations (one notch below enterprise customers in terms of size).

The idea was originally motivated by the need to solve the most important customer requirement of an information storage system: data integrity. In the 1980s, a new technology known as RAID had arisen. RAID used mathematical techniques to re-create information from failed disk drives. If the math was wrong, the customer would receive corrupt data. Customers wanted RAID because it was faster than any disk technology previously available.

Thousands of lines of new software had to be written to implement RAID. Dozens of failure permutations could impact RAID systems.

How could this software be tested to prove that the math never failed? The intrapreneur in this case was highly productive and an expert in RAID. He had taken the initiative to understand the customer sphere. The diagram below highlights the need for an intrapreneur to find an adjacent technology and collaborate.

In this case, the adjacent technology was a very robust testing framework. This framework already verified data integrity, but it did not have a specific solution for verifying RAID disk arrays. Employees in the two technology spheres collaborated on new functionality that inserted tortuous fault events at every mathematical calculation point. This tool became internally known as the disk array qualifier (DAQ). The resulting disk array, known as CLARiiON®, achieved superior levels of quality that led to well over $12 billion of revenue generation in a 20-year period. The figure below depicts a Venn diagram of the DAQ solution.

These three circles represent the three basic habits of highly effective intrapreneurs. A highly productive employee becomes proficient in a particular expertise (in this case, RAID). The intrapreneur then takes the initiative to identify problems from the customer sphere (data integrity). Initiative spurs the search to find an applicable adjacent sphere (the test framework) and collaborate.

Collaboration between the two technologists yielded an innovative solution: the DAQ.

The next question becomes: how do you deliver upon these new ideas? The answer to this question will become apparent as we continue to work through the steps. Please consider subscribing to this blog for future updates.

Twitter: @SteveTodd
EMC Intrapreneur

Written by A.A. Somebody

October 18, 2010 at 2:26 pm

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