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How Corporate 'Intrapreneurs' Can Harness the Power of AI to Transform Their Businesses and Supercharge Their Careers

Corporate intrapreneurs are uniquely positioned to lead the charge in harnessing the transformative power of artificial intelligence within their organizations. Here is how and why.


Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash


Key Takeaways

  • This article emphasizes how innovation often stems from "regular," non-executive employees, highlighting the pivotal role of intrapreneurs in driving organizational progress regardless of hierarchical constraints.

  • With the right approach, generative AI can fuel significant business transformation.


  • Intrapreneurs have a unique opportunity to leverage this technology to scale the impact of their ideas, but it requires staying current, embracing ethical responsibility and identifying quick wins while fostering interdisciplinary collaboration.


Innovation doesn't understand corporate hierarchy and titles. I saw this first-hand when I led the Global Innovation Programs at Cisco and later advised leading Fortune 500 organizations on their AI strategy and AI roadmap. The boldest and most creative ideas always came from a select few employees who saw a problem and had the creativity and business-savviness to come up with a solution. They also had the drive, resilience and perseverance to get others on board to implement it.


These people weren't necessarily executives or board members. In fact, most are "regular" employees who are invested in their jobs and keen on making things work better — for all of us. These intrapreneurs possess a perfect blend of problem-solving and creative thinking skills with a sprinkle of entrepreneurial mindset — a goldmine for any organization in today's rapidly changing business and technological climate.


Today, intrapreneurs have an unprecedented opportunity to scale the impact of their ideas and supercharge their careers with the use of generative AI. Here's how.


Making the most of generative AI as an entrepreneur


In the right hands, generative AI is poised to transform business as we know it. McKinsey estimates that the technology can pour $2.6 - $4.4 trillion into the global economy each year. For this to happen, though, businesses need to change. And they need to change in major ways.


Research shows that at least 40% of employees would need to reskill as a result of generative AI transforming the way we work. In fact, 73% of organizations expect that some form of reskilling will be necessary for all employees.


This creates a perfect opportunity for intrapreneurs to scale their efforts and become an indispensable part of the digital transformation process within their organizations. First, however, they need to understand what they're working with.


Stay current


Don't fall prey to the illusory truth effect. Just because you're exposed to generative AI daily doesn't automatically mean you know how to use it. In fact, most of us are still learning how to make the best use of this technology.


That's because gen AI is evolving at an accelerated rate. For example, while it took decades to develop the early natural language processing programs of the '60s, today we see the AI technology make leaps and bounds in progress within a span of a few weeks. We now have not only AI-generated images, text, and code, but a few days ago, we also saw the first AI-generated short film.


This was unfathomable only a few years ago. The existing capabilities of large language models (LLM) are both unparalleled and increasingly growing. Intrapreneurs who are natural problem-solvers simply cannot afford to stay uninformed in this area. You must stay current, and that takes consistent exposure to the technology and experimenting with its capabilities.


Embrace ethical responsibility


The unprecedented opportunities of generative AI also present unprecedented challenges. Compliance and data security are paramount in this context. Before adopting any AI solutions, familiarize yourself with the internal AI governance framework of your organization. What are the limitations and best practices that the business has embraced?


Looking beyond your employer, there are also nationwide and statewide AI policies that businesses need to observe in order to prevent and limit any possible biases or misuse. For example, the AI Act by the European Commission is the first-ever legal framework that limits and moderates the use of AI in various contexts. A few years ago, the state of Illinois also passed the Video Interview Act, which requires employers who use AI in assessing candidate video interviews to be transparent with them. There are, of course, many other regulations that have been enacted or are underway that will impact how AI can and should be used.


Keeping abreast of your own policies, as well as regulatory changes and learning about the possible risks with every new iteration of the technology, will help you innovate in an ethical and responsible manner.


Look for quick wins, responsibly


Generative AI has been amazing for introducing quick wins. The threshold for entry is so low that there has been almost unanimous adoption across job roles to perform one task or another. If you haven't already, look at areas of the business where these tools can shave off time from you and your colleagues within the limits of your corporate AI strategy.


In line with the previous point on ethical use, start small. For example, if it takes you 30 minutes to comb through calls and emails to prepare for your next call, AI can do this for you in minutes. Create workflows that can replicate these gains across the team. Track everything. Once you have sufficient data, you can use your proof of concept for a company-wide implementation.


Build a coalition of the willing


The biggest gains from AI come in an interdisciplinary setting. One of the major appeals of generative AI is that it practically has no barrier to entry. Its use of human language means that tech and non-tech teams have a unique chance to collaborate and innovate together in ways they haven't been able to before.


Put this to good use by building best practice exchanges at work and within the wider AI community. Nurture cross-functional collaboration where employees have open access to others to ask questions, share know-how, and experiment with new solutions.


Begin with a clear goal in mind


Regardless of the gains AI brings to the table, it would be hard to get anyone on board unless you have tangible data to demonstrate its value. In this context, it's not only about whether generative AI can solve a certain business problem (it most likely can). The question here is whether you know how to implement the technology in a way that's both ethical, responsible and undisruptive to other business processes.


Before you tackle any challenge, measure the time and effort it takes you and your team to perform a task without the use of AI. Then, measure how AI impacts that part of your job. Do the gains justify its use? Also, consider the possible risks and pushback you may encounter from other stakeholders. Address these challenges well in advance so that you can implement these solutions without too many hiccups.


Intrapreneurs who embrace AI will become the architects of the future. Blending their flair for creative problem-solving with the limitless capabilities of generative AI will be the silver bullet that helps companies survive and thrive in an increasingly competitive landscape. This creates a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for intrapreneurs to not only stand out but rise through the ranks at speed. Start small, work responsibly, and never stop learning. The rest will follow.


This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com on April 9, 2024.




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