As a Chief Marketing Officer at Dundee Corp., Karla Congson was becoming so good at sourcing experts to help with her customer’s projects that in due time, she realised that collaborative expert-sourcing itself was worth diving into full-time. Thus collectiveIQ was born, based on Karla’s strong beliefs that for both entrepreneurs and large enterprises, collaboration and expertise add up to the largest competitive advantage. We asked Karla about her experience with supporting innovation in larger organizations.
What does intrapreneurship mean to you? How would you define it?
I would define intrapreneurship as looking at what’s possible, and having the courage to seek out and do things in a different way for the betterment of the company you work for. A classic “employee” mindset focuses primarily on their personal or immediate team’s success – that’s what year end reviews tend to be all about. With intrapreneurial mindset, you actively seek out new opportunities within or outside of your role to improve the business, and act as an owner of that business.
Tell me about your day job: how do you do what you do? What motivates you to keep moving forward?
I am an intrapreneur turned entrepreneur. One of my mentors is an executive within a large Fortune 500 company, one of the big automotive giants, and he had this guiding principle: “Honor To Serve” – that is, whatever your level it’s an honor to serve the greater good of the company. That was the guiding principle for me as well in my previous role as CMO of Dundee Corporation. And one of my early observations about the company was a limited organizational understanding of critical trends in technology disruption and how those trends were shaping our industry. So I created a supper club, whose mandate was to bring together top thought leaders and executives who were passionate about technology and innovation: startup founders, data scientists chief digital officers, CMOs, trend specialists and more; and I named the series collectiveIQ. Since the group was quite senior, we were able to attract global experts to speak with us and the network quickly grew to 150 members in a matter of months. This network was managed with zero budget, zero sponsorship and all events were pay-as-you-go. And in exchange for a little “sweat equity”, I was suddenly able to tap into the collective expertise of an unbelievable network of experts. I could’ve gone to a course, a conference, or an event, but instead, I dedicated time to hosting these initiatives because of the value I could translate back into my employer. After a couple of years of hosting this supper club, I realized the incredible power of collaborative networks and translated the idea (and the brand) from a side of the desk project into a new company.
My co-founder and I launched collectiveIQ – which today is an expert ecosystem made up of 150 independent freelancers, which includes creative directors, PhDs, data scientists, ethnographers, management consultants, marketing strategists and more. We cast the right mix of talent to solve our clients’ toughest marketing and business problems – you could say that we are in essence a “solutions architect.” We’re still new to the market, but have completed work for two global clients and are in late stage discussions with several other multinational organizations – so it’s been a healthy start!
Describe the latest most interesting project you have worked on. What happened? What are the results of your work?
In terms of interesting projects, I am deeply fascinated about innovation and exponential technologies – and their impact on the future of business and the future of work. And so I recently joined on as a founding member to bring Singularity University (a silicon valley institution located in NASA Park) to Canada, beginning with a two day summit that will take place in October of 2016 and coinciding with Canada 150. SingularityU is benefit organization whose mission is to educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to solve humanity’s grandest challenges. We’re at the launch stage right now, but early results are significant interest and corporate support of this venture across major corporations, several levels of government and the City of Toronto. The immense potential this initiative can have on driving Canada’s innovation agenda makes me incredibly proud to be a founding member.
Which company / large organization in your mind is doing innovation well? Who do you look up to and feel inspired by? Who are you mentored by?
I would say that in Canada, we have a very conservative attitude, but I love what RBC and CIBC are doing. They have gone beyond the innovation theatre, and they’re actively looking at how they can incorporate innovation into their organisation. Deloitte has a deep innovation practice and are driving impact in many organizations across Canada. Within a large company, intrapreneurs face a natural tension. As an employee in a large organization, you typically work to stabilize scale and mitigate risk, and you do this through by creating repeatable process. For intrapreneurs, their job is about speed, big thinking and breaking the rules to create new value. To nurture that capability, you need to be able to create a culture that allows for tested, smart failures, and lets people to focus on pace over perfection when they’re pioneering an idea or new concept
A lot of innovation is coming from entirely new models which many of don’t even realize exist. I am always inspired by the number of Canadians who are driving innovation at a global level: Uber’s co-founder is from Calgary, Slack’s founder is from Vancouver, Waterloo students are at the centre of Musk’s Hyperloop project, Shopify and Hootsuite are taking the world by storm, Etherium (blockchain) is a unicorn many times over.
I very much apply a peer mentorship approach to my career – there’s a saying that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. So I actively cultivate a network that ensures I’m surrounded by and regularly interact with the most interesting, innovative and diverse people I can find.
What’s your best advice for the intrapreneurs and companies interested in nurturing the culture of innovation? How do you spot – and overcome – the barriers to move things forward?
The mark of a really great intrapreneur is practical thinking (that is, ensuring you’re thinking continuously about how do you make your company run 10% better), coupled with maintaining a 10x perspective (keeping on top of the disruptions and trends that are creating new models that are ten times better). Here’s my advice to intrapreneurs out there: find an executive sponsor that supports you and will help open the way; make sure your network is both deep (expertise) and broad (diversity), and look to the top experts both inside and outside your walls when solving for your toughest problems.
Co-founder and CEO
Karla Congson was Chief Marketing Officer at Dundee Corporation and has recently jumped into the entrepreneurship as a co-founder and CEO of collectiveIQ