There is no I in Team, but there is an I in intrapreneur

Intrapreneurs are quite the excitable bunch.  I find myself constantly trying to get other people inside Intuit to adopt the new ideas and techniques that I learn.  Earlier in my career I would often wonder why very few of my co-workers were interested in learning.   They would respond positively when I shared things with them, but I would almost never see them dive in further or apply the techniques I was trying to teach them.

If  only I knew the things then, that I know now.

There is nothing wrong with trying to influence others inside your organization, but change of any kind starts with you.

Whether you want them to or not, your own beliefs are what transfers to others.   Every thing you do, every day is a signal to those around you.  Are you emitting the right signals?   If there is even a bit of doubt in you, then others will pick up on that.

Whatever change you’re trying to make in your organization must start with you.   Continue to practice your new skills until you firmly believe in them.   At that point you should have built significant trust with your team.   They will be much more open to trying new tools & techniques after consistently seeing you exercise them successfully.

Here are a few areas you can focus on as an intrapreneur:

Personal development / Innovation time

BLOCK off 5-10% of your time each week to work on growing your skills as an innovator.   If you don’t set aside time consistently, how will you be able to convince your co-workers that they should do the same?

During this time each week, determine one area from the list below below and begin to apply immediately.     Do not let anyone take this time from you!


Personal Brainstorming

Break out your notebook and look at some of the problems / issues you’ve observed recently.   After you have spent a few minutes making sure the problem / issue is stated clearly, challenge yourself to spend 20 – 30 minutes trying to come up with as many solutions as possible.

If you’re interested in some great techniques to help you generate a BUNCH of ideas, check out 25 Useful Brainstorming Techniques.

Not only will this exercise help you be a better at brainstormer, but you will come up with great solutions to your own problems and feel better as a result.

Personal Business Model Canvas

The business model canvas is a great tool for pushing your thinking for a new product idea or a personal business model.   If you’re interested in a deeper dive into this technique be sure to check out the free preview of Business Model You.   By spending the time to document your personal business model you will better understand where you should focus your personal innovation efforts.

After you’ve documented your personal canvas, step back and think about the areas where you didn’t feel confident in your answers.   Were there areas where you wish you had the person sitting here to ask?   These are the areas where you need to begin applying your innovation skills immediately.

If you realized that you don’t have deep empathy for your customers, partners, etc.  You can dive in and start fixing that problem.   If you don’t have the right partnerships in place to move quickly then you can begin the process of building those relationships.

This is not a one time thing, be sure to come back and visit your business model canvas at some frequency to help you stay focused.


Empathy for your ___________

Creating new products and services is all about solving problems for customers.   If you reflect this thinking on yourself then you will see that you need to have some significant empathy skills.   You can apply these with your boss, co-workers, partners, etc.   Your deep understanding of the needs of these folks will be invaluable to you and your team.

As you learn about each of these customers, document what you know and share it with your team at appropriate times.    “Hey team, we should consider delivering this report by hand rather than e-mailing since Julie (our customer) spends most of her weekends reviewing email”.   Intrapreneurs think and do differently.

You can gain empathy by observing or interviewing your customer.   As you identify emotions and motivations for each customer you might also want to put yourself into similar situations.

Run an experiment

Your ability to create ultra-rapid prototypes and get visceral feedback from customers is extremely important.   When you can get the answer to any behavioral question in a matter of hours your co-workers will continuously turn to you and ask for help.

Start with something simple, you don’t need to solve world hunger.   Start by getting co-workers to recycle more,  wash their hands more thoroughly or even do something positive for someone else.   Just as you would do with a product, follow the process:

  • brainstorm your assumptions
  • Choose the leap of faith
  • Create a falsifiable hypothesis
  • Build an experiment
  • Run it quickly
  • Document what you learned as a result
  • Repeat

The more often you do this, the better you will get and you will also be making a positive impact on your company and co-workers.


These are just a few ideas for you, but I challenge you to START TODAY.   Don’t just tell your team mates about these great new innovative practices, SHOW THEM.   After you try some of these, I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.



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Gangplank Tucson: Lean Launchpad – Lessons Learned

On May 12, 2012 Gangplank Tucson kicked off our first Lean Launchpad course. It was modeled after the course that Steve Blank has been teaching at Stanford and other schools. The goal is to help teach entrepreneurs how to use customer development to search for a business model that they can ultimately scale. The course is intended to be extremely fast paced and requires a large investment from the student teams.

For this first pilot course our intention was to jump in, execute and learn from it rather than planning like crazy and trying to get it “right”. Because of that we pulled together 5 teams and 5 mentors. The mentors were chosen based on availability and were not assigned to a single team.

Each week we would begin by reviewing the selected reading from The Startup Owner’s Manual and Business Model Generation books. Next, we would proceed to review the associated slides from Steve Blank’s slide share. Last, we would pair each team up with a mentor to help the teams determine what they should be testing for the next week.

After eleven weeks we had two teams that really stood out. The first team was Forward Intel which started the class with the belief that they would provide a suite of big data software and services. By the end of the course they had narrowed to a very specific problem of providing actionable recommendations to marketing firms based on their web, social and related data.

The second team was Verb Club who were designing a mobile route application specifically for climbers. Due to the fact that details about routes change constantly due to weather it is extremely important for climbers to have current information. The app would primarily be supported by advertising.

All in all the course had a great impact and we will definitely be running more of them very soon.

Lessons Learned

  • There is a huge need for this type of education in Tucson as we have lots of entrepreneurs starting new businesses, but no education that focuses on this first phase of business building.
  • Some entrepreneurs have a STRONG reality distortion field. We saw one of the teams which absolutely believed that their vision was reality. They focused completely on web data and refused to get out of the building and learn from their customers one-on-one.
  • There are lots of great coaches & mentors willing to help entrepreneurs in Tucson. I was amazed at the willingness of all of the mentors to jump in and spend their personal time coaching teams for free. Thank you all for paying it forward.
  • It is important to match mentors to teams as it increases accountability for both the teams and the mentor. Additionally I believe it will be important to match based on the industries of both.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this first course a success!!


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Butterflies to Hurricanes – How Innovation & Creative Problem Solving Have Changed My Life

The title of this post may seem a little dramatic, but it’s actually true!   I’m hoping that someone out there might be early in their innovation journey and my story might provide some pointers to help them transform their lives.  This blog post outlines my path from innovation neophyte to Intuit Innovation Catalyst.

The Calm Before The Storm

The butterfly began flapping its wings in early 2010 when I started listening to Phil McKinney’s podcast called “Killer Innovations” in which I started learning all about brainstorming, narrowing and how to assess the quality of innovations.  I’m sure this happens to a lot of people, but I thought this was all about generating good ideas during a team brainstorm or personal brainstorming and not a lot more.  It wasn’t Phil’s fault, I just had no experience in the area.

I tried out a few of his techniques personally and soon got the bright idea that I should try this out on my team at Intuit.  I booked a 2 hour meeting with all of the business intelligence developers to brainstorm new ways that we might use our text analytics system to make things better for our area.  The session went pretty well.  We generated quite a few ideas and due to the fact that I had a really bad narrowing system, we took almost 5 hours trying to prioritize the list  of ideas.

What I Learned:

  • The best way to generate killer innovations is to generate lots of ideas
  • You need a fast way to narrow ideas, otherwise the team will burn out
  • Make sure you know what’s going to happen with the ideas after they are generated.  If there is no commitment to move forward with them the team will flounder.


April 28th, 2010:  I decided that I would try something a little bigger.  I got approval from the TurboTax Analytics manager to pull her entire team into an all day brainstorming session.  We spent a few hours brainstorming what we might be able to create if we combined random Intuit data sets.  We were able to generate about 297 different ideas!

After the brainstorming we went through a long and tedious narrowing process.  We put each idea into Quickbase and then gave each one a 1-5 star rating based on how well it met our key criteria.  Eventually we were able to narrow to a key few ideas and we began prototyping them using the whiteboard.   Finally, we voted on the top ideas and wrapped up the session.

At the end of the day, the manager of the team pulled me off to the side and told me about Intuit’s Innovation Catalyst program.  She said it was an intense training where I would be able to learn how to apply Design For Delight in sessions just like I had done.  I was ecstatic as I had no idea the program even existed.  It turned out I was already applying the techniques myself even though I needed a lot more skill and practice.

What I Learned:

  • Don’t worry about whether you’ve got it exactly right.  Jump in, execute and make sure you learn from the situation.
  • Being a solo facilitator with 9 participants is very difficult.
  • Make sure your narrowing criteria are right before facilitating.  Generate a few ideas on your own, run them through the narrowing criteria and make sure it works right.

The Winds Are Strengthening

Around this time I also started listening to Andrew Warner’s podcast called Mixergy.  I was learning a TON about entrepreneurship from him, and one day in the Arby’s drive-through I came across an episode where he opened up and started talking about what it was like for him to be interviewing his heroes.  He gave some pointers on doing this successfully and I realized that  the best way for me to learn more about innovation was to start interviewing!   I went home and bought the domain name, put up a quick WordPress site and tried to find a few people to interview.

June 18th, 2010: The fastest folks to connect with to interview were co-workers at Intuit, so that’s what I did.  I conducted my first 2 interviews and remember being SO excited afterward.  I was learning about things going on inside the company that previously I had no visibility into.  I was hooked immediately, but there was one snag.  The legal team.   They wanted to make sure that I wasn’t letting out trade secrets and asked me to give them a copy of each episode before I published it.  This made the barrier way too high so I decided to stop interviewing Intuit employees.

Finding new folks to interview required a little creativity, but I was learning about Twitter and decided to setup an account for the podcast.  I began connecting with anyone with the word “innovation” in their profiles and attempted to find my next interviewee.  As luck would have it, I found @GreggFraley on the first day (a Friday) and struck up a quick conversation.  After a little bit I got up the guts to ask him about having him on Innovators Mix.  He was extremely kind and offered to let me interview him on the following Monday.  GREAT!

I quickly realized that it would be incredibly rude of me to attempt to interview him without ever reading his novel Jack’s Notebook.   I immediately called my fiancee and asked her to please stop by the bookstore and buy a copy.  She called me back about 30 minutes later and told me that they didn’t have it in stock!   What was I going to do?   I left work early and went home to see if her iPad might have the book.  IT DID!  I immediately dove in and proceeded to read the entire book in about 12 hours or so.

Monday came quickly and I was ready to conduct my first real interview.  Boy was I incredibly nervous, but since he was a pro at this type of thing he was able to take my poorly crafted questions and provide eloquent answers to each of them.  I learned quite a bit from Gregg over the short hour, but there was one piece that really stuck with me.  He told me a story about an exchange between him and one of his early mentors.   Gregg said:

…a guy named, Bill McGrane who was no longer with us; may he rest in peace. But Bill is one of these guys who back and even the middle 70s was challenging all the assumptions, and was a real fresh thinker.  One of the things that he said to me when I was 26 and sort of struggling for what to do and how to do it.

He said, “Become an expert at something.” And I said, “Well, that kind of takes years.” He said, “Not really.” He said, “If you read six books about anything you’re more informed about whatever that is than 99% of the population, and what’s an expert than to be more informed than almost everyone else.”  That, really, was interesting to me because I thought, “Wow, six books.” How long does it take to read six books on one subject; not too long right? For someone, for instance, who wants to be an expert on creativity and innovation, if you read six books, you will along the way, become an “expert” — if you read the right six. In particular I’d hope that Jack’s Notebook would be one of them!  Now, you haven’t got a PhD right? But you’ve got a good start at domain expertise, and that’s what you want.”

What I Learned:

  • Creative Problem Solving  had been around for quite a while and there is lots to learn.
  • You can break any endeavor down into small pieces to conquer it (ie: becoming an expert at something)
  • Don’t let roadblocks get in the way of your dreams.  Figure out how to get around them quickly and keep moving.

Fortunately, I had already read Jack’s Notebook and just needed to figure out what my other “expert” books should be.  I hit Amazon and grabbed a few newly published titles with the word “innovation” in them.  They were “The Innovator’s Toolkit” and “Innovation Tournaments”.  These two books taught me quite a bit about creating and supporting innovation systems inside companies.  How to get teams moving and how to foster creativity.    They were very helpful, but unfortunately weren’t very practical for someone further down in the organization as I was.   I really needed something more hands-on.
September 27th, 2010 :  That something came only a few short months later when Lucy, the same person who had nominated me to become an innovation catalyst asked me to help facilitate a Design for Delight session with her and a few other ICs.  We helped participants go on a customer safari where they watched employees in their native environment, got to learn from them, ask then questions and begin to dip their toes into a deep river of customer empathy.  The end goal was to apply what they learned to design a knowledge management system which would work well for agents across all of Intuit’s businesses.

What I Learned:

  • Deep customer empathy takes time and dedication.  Teams that spend 1-2 hours watching their customers will design mildly better solutions, but that is the tip of the iceberg.
  • Be willing to make rapid changes – The ICs were pulled together about 2 hours into the session to discuss some areas that weren’t going to plan.  They made a change to the agenda which ended up correcting the issue.


Tropical Depression or Tropical Storm?

2/23/2011 – The day for official Innovation Catalyst training finally came in late February.  I was so excited and nervous to finally get to go to training.  I knew it was going to be special, but nothing could have prepared me for the experience I received!   We were immersed in customers, empathy maps, problem statements and point of view exercises immediately.

— To be continued —


Rather than having this blog post turn into a book, I feel that it would be better to devote a full post to the Innovation Catalyst training I received and some of the lessons I’ve learned since.   I’ll end by saying THANK YOU to all of the great mentors that have helped me get this far.

Please provide me feedback in the comments below.  How is this story useful or valuable to you?

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Gangplank Success Brownbag – Introduction To Google Analytics

I had the pleasure of presenting an Introduction to Google Analytics over at Gangplank Tucson today.  I couldn’t be happier about how it turned out.  We had about 20 attendees and not only did I get positive feedback from a few folks that the content was useful, but even ended up being able to help a couple of guys from a local eCommerce site implement shopping cart tracking for their GA & store.

In the presentation I covered:

  • Setting up Google Analytics
  • How to read the dashboard report
  • How and when to use goals
  • Funnel visualization
  • Traffic sources
  • Using the URL builder
  • Implementing site search

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