In the January 2011 issue of Entrepreneur, Richard Branson shares an interesting story about being a “belonger” where he resides in the British Virgin Isles. The airport signs for the immigration lines read “Belongers” and “Non-Belongers,” rather than “Residents” and “Nonresidents.” He goes on to say that when a nation embraces its own as “belonging here” as opposed to just living there, it breeds a different form of loyalty:
“It reminds us that this is where we belong, and so our efforts are not just on our own behalf, but also to benefit the community.”
This small semantic difference raises an interesting question: What if companies had belongers rather than just employees?
Intrapreneurship and “Belonging”
When you “belong” to a company you are given the freedom to break the rules to create and innovate. Your leaders enable you to follow your vision, not simply your job description. You become so passionate about what you do that you no longer feel like you simply work for someone else. This defines the essence of “intrapreneurship” – internal entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs are needed to start a company, but internal champions who look for and develop new opportunities are often the catalyst for the next breakthrough product, service, or system. Look at any great invention at just about any major company and you are bound to discover that an intrapreneur invented it!
In the past, most of these intrapreneurs worked ‘on the fringe’ in complete secret because their job description did not entitle them to engage in such projects. But today companies are embracing this “belonging here” concept Richard Branson is talking about.
Google is well-known for enabling their employees to spend 20% of their time working on any project of interest regardless if it is related to their current job. This 20% time policy has led to some of their best products such as Google Earth. Recently LinkedIn started a new quarterly program call [in]cubator which allows employees to pitch an idea for “venture capital” from the company and then develop their idea for 30 to 90 days. These examples show that to be cutting edge companies absolutely need employees to drive new projects and explore new and unexpected directions for business development.
Intrapreneurship and Group Cultures
This idea of “belongers” actually makes perfect sense in group-oriented cultures. In such cultures, employees generally feel a very strong allegiance to their company, often considered their extended family. Entrepreneurship is not particularly valued as it means you have separated yourself from a group identity. Japan is perfect example of a “belonging culture”. William H. Saito in the August issue of the American Chamber of Commerce Japan Journal shared that only 12 percent of Japanese dream of being their own boss, versus 49 percent of Chinese. And where 73 percent of Americans respect entrepreneurs, only 32 percent of Japanese feel the same way.
While there may be an adverse attitude to entrepreneurship in Japan, perhaps intrapreneurship is the perfect way for Japanese, or other group-oriented cultures, to establish a personal brand. Group identity can still be maintained while individuals tap into their personal brands to explore new and unexpected directions for business development.
While entrepreneurs are looking to break-away from the group for individual success, intrapreneurs can capitalize on their unique strengths and take pride in developing the next breakthrough product or service while belonging to the group.
Peter Sterlacci is known as “Japan’s personal branding pioneer” and is one of only 15 Master level Certified Personal Branding Strategists in the world. He is introducing a leading global personal branding methodology to companies and careerists in Japan and adapting it for the Japanese culture. In a culture where fitting-in is the norm, his mission is to pioneer a ‘cultural shift’ by helping Japanese to stand out in a global environment. His background spans over 21 years in intercultural consulting, international outreach, and global communication coaching.