Boost a Career Path With a Playful Intrapreneur Mindset

Play with ideas, experiment and dare to fail, advises David Gram, who believes building a career using an "intrapreneur" mindset helps break constraints of vertical stovepipes found inside many large organizations.

By Ken Kaplan

By Ken Kaplan June 21, 2023

Companies are feeling the pressure of more and more change coming at a faster and faster pace. At the same time, they’re finding it harder to find and retain the most talented members of younger generations.

“That’s a good thing,” said strategic consultant David Gram in an interview with The Forecast during the 2019 .NEXT event in Copenhagen. 

The self-styled Danish “intrapreneur” has worked with radical innovation and lean start-up methods in large global corporations for nearly two decades, including construction toymaker LEGO. He is a co-founder of Diplomatic Rebels, a Danish firm that specializes in longer-term relationships with companies to foster innovation by, as he said, “combining the will of the rebel with the skills of the diplomat.”In 2020, he co-founded the official alumni network for former LEGO employees. Currently, the head of venture building at Aliaxis Next.


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It no longer seems odd for even large companies to pivot to entirely different operating and business models. The shift from shipping physical products to offering subscription services online continues to sweep through multiple industries, driven by customers who demand new genres of experiences.

Gram, officially a partner in Diplomatic Rebels, lists his role as intrapreneur in residence. 

“The residency indicates that you are in an interim position in a way,” he said. “I think that could become the new normal in the future. You have to overcome fear, whether you're an employee or a leader.”

What’s an “Intrapreneur?”

He defines “intrapreneur” as an insider who isn’t constrained within the vertical stovepipes of a large organization: “There's a future where employees, and especially those driving innovation, are more fluid and able to move more freely around within the organization, both horizontally as well as laterally,” he said.


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This also means they should be able to have a meeting with the chairman if that's needed and what they're working on is of high strategic importance. 

“It doesn't make sense that they have to go through five layers in the organization to be able to have that conversation,” Gram said.

Not surprisingly, Gram said Lego was both a creative and playful company to work at. But he stressed that Lego was in many ways a typical international corporation, with formal offices rather than toy-strewn playgrounds. What made Lego different, he said, was a corporate willingness to play with ideas, to let talented employees experiment and fail without being branded a failure.

“Any company needs to be able to experiment and explore new territory,” he said. 

“With the amount of changes happening in the world, the amount of new stuff that we constantly need to relate to, there’s only one way to go about it. And that is to be curious and playful and experimental about it and not be afraid of failing, not be afraid of looking foolish or not being right the first time.”

Turnover is Part of the Plan

Behind the reinvention of brands from Microsoft to Whole Foods is an overhaul of how the companies that deliver them are organized, and how employees are encouraged to succeed.

A radical shift in business “calls for different types of talents,” Gram told The Forecast. 

“And then at the same time, they're meeting new generations of talents that they are having a hard time retaining and attracting. So there has to be a different model for how people work in organizations. This has actually been happening naturally in Silicon Valley for years, where the average tenure for a, for a person in a company, especially in the talent ones, is about 18 months and then they move on.”


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Rather than chafe at the turnover, Gram said company leaders ought to embrace it as a good thing. Just as Google has helped engineers to leave the company for, say, med school, Gram advocates acceptance that the most talented employees won’t be long-haulers. 

“Companies need to think more in terms of ecosystems,” he said. “Part of that is letting your people flow more freely and especially your intrapreneurs.”

Ultimately, Gram said, life is like Legos. It can be reassembled in myriad forms and that is part of what makes it wonderful. 

“The system is such that you can do anything with the bricks,” he said. “They will connect in multiple ways and there's no right and wrong.”

Ken Kaplan is Editor in Chief for The Forecast by Nutanix. Find him on Twitter @kenekaplan.

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