Intrapreneurship is a hugely rewarding multi-disciplinary field that has the potential to drive revenue and grow businesses of any size and in any sector. This makes it a fun and exciting industry to be a part of.
But… it also means that to be an expert intrapreneur, you need to have a basic understanding of lots of different concepts. From innovation to project management; leadership to marketing and more besides. There are many skills for an intrapreneur to master.
We’ve created this list of the 28 most valuable books that any intrapreneur should read.
Ready to Improve Your Intrapreneurial Skills?
If you love learning about intrapreneurship (and the fact that you’re even reading this article makes me think you are), then dig into these books. Study them. Make notes all over them. And most importantly… Apply what you learn.
To help you navigate the list we’ve arranged the books into seven categories.
- Innovation Books
- Intrapreneurial Strategy Books
- Value Proposition Books
- Business Model Books
- Intrapreneurial Marketing Books
- Lean Project Management Books
- Growth, Analytics and Customer Validation Books
Here we go…
The links below by the way, are affiliate links. That means that, at no additional cost to you, we get a small commission if you click through and purchase.
Innovation books are a great place to get started. They’ll get your creative juices flowing and put you in the right headspace to start developing innovations that will power your company through the next decade and more. When you get your intrapreneurial mindset sorted, you’re on the way to positive improvement.
The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business by Clayton M. Christensen
A great place to start. This is one of the most important business books of the last 30 years.
Christensen takes a look at disruptive innovation and analyses how even the largest of companies can suddenly collapse when they fail to take advantage of new technologies.
The dilemma at the heart of the books is this: At what point do you stop listening to customers (and their focus in incremental innovation), and instead embrace a new disruptive technology or idea?
Christensen shows how companies must systematically kill their cash cow products themselves by adopting new technologies. For it’s only by doing this that they will manage the transition to a new technology era and maintain the company in its market leading position.
Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action by Simon Sinek
This book will encourage you to take a long hard look at your motivations for being an intrapreneur or innovator. It’ll help you focus on the areas in which you are most likely to have long-term success and not only that – enjoy it too!
Sinek argues that the starting point should be to find your ‘why’. That is, your passion and your curiosity. He explains how, having done and articulated this, you and everyone around you will be inspired to greater success as you follow your path of curiosity and coalesce around your shared goal.
Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs by Larry Keely, Helen Walters et al
The critical value in this book is in the 10 types of innovation the authors present. It explains which categories of innovation deliver long term gain, but also why the short-term gains of other innovations should not be dismissed.
As an intrapreneur, you’ll learn to think more broadly about what innovation means, how to go beyond product innovations, and how to ‘borrow’ from successful business models in other industries to create your own.
Sprint: How To Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky & Braden Kowitz
In this book from a team at Google Ventures, the authors look at how successful innovations are created. They discover that traditional group activities like brainstorming, whilst fun, generate poor ideas. Instead they find that good ideas – ideas that go on to become successful products – tend to come when people are able to spend time alone working through all the dimensions of the problem.
In this book they present a 5-day structured process that an innovation team can follow to solve business problems and test them with real customers. Crucially the process provides space for people to work individually, and a structured way to bring all their diverse ideas together and agree on a common way forward.
Intrapreneurial Strategy Books
Some of these books in this category are specifically about startups and entrepreneurship. Others are focused on adapting startup principles for intrapreneurs and developing corporate startups.
But all of them give you a big picture view of the intrapreneurial process.
The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win by Steve Blank
As the copy on the front cover says, this is “The book that launched the lean startup revolution”.
And for once it’s not hyperbole.
Steve Blank is the granddaddy of modern entrepreneurial thinking. The concepts of customer discovery, customer validation, problem-solution fit and product-market fit all stem from this book.
Everything else in this list of strategy books builds on the revolutionary work Blank did in this guide. It may not be the most effortless book to digest, or the most easily applicable, but if you want to understand the origins of the many terms used in intrapreneurship and lean startup then this is the place to start.
The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries
Ries’ core thesis in this book is that startups exist to learn. To learn how to be a successful company. Therefore everything you do when starting out should be about accelerating learning so that you can get to profit as quickly as possible.
If you read just one book from this list, make it this one. Ries takes all the core ideas from Steve Blank, and makes them easily applicable. He introduces the concept of continual hypothesis testing, the build-measure-learn feedback loop, the pivot and more.
The Startup Way: How Entrepreneurial Management Transforms Culture and Drives Growth by Eric Ries
This is Ries’ follow-up to the hugely successful “The Lean Startup”.
Here Ries turns his attention from entrepreneurship to intrapreneurship and looks at how Lean Startup concepts can be applied within established businesses.
He argues that companies need an entrepreneurship function to bridge the gap between innovation labs and the core business units. He discusses the structure, operational processes and employee rewards mechanisms to put in place to enable that model to work.
Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant by W Chan Kim & Renee Morborgne
You may have heard managers or colleagues talk about the red ocean and the blue ocean strategy. In this metaphor the red ocean represents the market place in which businesses currently operate, and the blue ocean is the uncontested market space just waiting for you to explore and conquer.
And this is the book from which that metaphor originates.
The authors present a series of tools and frameworks that will help you think about how you can differentiate your offer from your competitors, how you can redraw the boundaries of a market to your own advantage and thereby, how you can create your own blue ocean in which you have no competition.
Breaking Bad Habits: Why Best Practices Are Killing Your Business by Frank Vermeulen
In this book the author argues that companies’ over reliance on best practices and industry standards (such as ISO9000 or Six Sigma) are damaging their ability to grow and adapt to changing markets.
His core idea is that best practices are there to be challenged, to be constantly improved, and pro-actively retired as new ideas evolve.
He provides ideas and frameworks to help an intrapreneur identify bad practices and challenge the status quo in their company.
The Corporate Startup: How Established Companies Can Develop Successful Innovation Ecosystems by Tendayi Viki
Like The Startup Way, this book looks at how entrepreneurial processes can work inside a large organisation. The focus is on structure, operational processes and governance of what the authors call and innovation ecosystem.
This ecosystem is made up of three functions: Innovation Strategy, Innovation Practice and Innovation Management. Innovation strategy includes portfolio management of corporate startups. Innovation practice is the implementation of the strategy, and innovation management includes the review and assessment of progress using new types of metrics that will help you identify where to invest and where to cut your losses.
Value Proposition Books
What sets your idea apart from the competition? Who exactly is it for? And why should they choose your offering over some other product?
Understanding what makes your solution different and uniquely valuable to your customers is a simple concept… but when, as intrapreneurs, we spend every day working on our fledgling product its easy to over complicate it.
Getting this right is an important step towards establishing your product with your customers and creating growth.
These books will help you zero-in on a simple, compelling value proposition for your offering.
Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries, Jack Trout & Philip Kotler
Q. If you can’t build your startup in a blue ocean market, what’s the next best thing?
A. Use this book to figure out how you can redefine the red ocean to your advantage!
Positioning is all about standing out in a crowded market place. It’s about defining your value proposition in a way that makes you seem uniquely qualified to solve your customers’ problem. In other words, how you move from being one of many potential solutions to being the only possible solution in your customers’ mind.
Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin
If anyone is entitled to be called a marketing guru it’s Seth Godin. In what is probably the prolific author’s best book, Godin makes the case that the way to innovate and grow your business is by making remarkable products. What makes a remarkable product? Well it’s this: they are products that people remark upon. They tell their friends, post on social media and simply feel driven to tell everyone they meet all about it.
Ever seen a purple cow? I guess not. But if you did, you’d be sure to tell everyone, right?
And that’s it in a nutshell.
When people tell you that you must have a USP for your product, what they really mean is that you need to find your own purple cow. This book will give you dozens of ideas for HOW you can create your own purple cow and embed that into every product you create.
Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want by Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur & Gregory Bernada
This book is all about understanding customers, the problem domain you are working in and evaluating your ideas (value propositions) before you go off and spend money building things.
In some ways it is analogous to the requirements analysis that likely already happens in your company, but with the huge benefit that your candidate value propositions are systematically tested and verified along the way with your customers.
In this book the authors introduce their core tool: the value proposition canvas. And then explain how you can use it to discover your own value proposition by testing with your prospects.
Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal by Oren Klaff
Pitching is a core skill for an intrapreneur. The ability to present your idea succinctly and powerfully… and then win backing for your internal startup is critical to your success.
We’ve sat through hundreds of pitches. The sad fact is most are dull and uninspiring.
This book will show you a simple way to put together a winning pitch that will get your audience as passionate about your concept as you are. Klaff presents a 6-step framework you can use for your pitch:
- Set the context
- Tell the customer story
- Intrigue the audience
- Offer the prize
- Dangle the hook
- Get a decision
Business Model Books
Many first-time intrapreneurs think that the core part of their role is in planning and building the product or service. But that’s not the case.
In reality, the role of the intrapreneur is to devise and develop a viable business model. One that is profitable.
In this sense, the business model IS the product and everything you do should be focused on getting this right (and getting to profit) as quickly as possible.
Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth by Gabriel Weinberg & Justin Mares
We find that the box on the Lean Canvas that many of our students struggle with most (and so consequently brush over quickly) is the Channels box. And yet this element of your business model is critical to nailing customer acquisition and therefore the success or failure of your internal startup.
If you think you need to get more customers and improve that Acquisition metric, then read this book.
The authors discuss how to use 19 separate channels to grow your customer base. They cover all the typical channels like social media ads, SEO and SEM; but also some less common options like trade shows, partnerships, public speaking and more.
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal
In this book, Eyal looks at how many of the world’s most successful startups encourage us to form habits around them. He explains a four-step Hooked cycle that habit-forming products push users through:
- The trigger
- The action
- The variable reward
- The investment
Here, it’s the fact that the reward is variable that keeps users coming back time and again.
As we all know, habits are hard to break, which, as an intrapreneur, gives you a huge advantage over the competition because your customers will stick around for a very long time, and will tend to do so even through price rises.
Read this to figure out whether your product should build features based on the Hooked model (hint: not all products should!)
The Automatic Customer: Creating a Subscription Business in Any Industry by John Warrillow
Ever wondered why so many successful new startups use a subscription-based business model?
The answer is that it tackles one of the biggest challenges of any startup business: customer acquisition. When you bill monthly the entry point cost is lower, and that means customers are much more willing to experiment and try your product out.
Then, if you have a habit-forming product (see Hooked, above), you’re onto a winner.
In this book the author shows you how you can create a subscription model in any industry, not just the obvious ones like software and media services.
Intrapreneurial Marketing Books
Without the ability to successfully persuade customers to adopt your solution, you have little chance of being successful. That makes marketing a core skill for any intrapreneur.
These books look at how you can apply intrapreneurial marketing techniques with both external and internal customers (i.e. fellow employees in your organization).
Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers by Geoffrey A Moore
A true business classic, and probably the oldest book on this list. This is a marketing strategy book for intrapreneurs.
In it, Moore proposes that there are 5 distinct groups in any market: visionaries, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards.
Each of these groups have distinct needs that need to be met in order to achieve a sale to that group.
The ‘chasm’ of the title is the gap in needs between the early adopters and the early majority. He suggests that many companies fail because while they make good initial sales they fail to navigate the chasm and re-orient their strategy to the early majority marketplace.
This book explores that gap and provides tools and techniques to enable you to bridge it for your corporate startup.
Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller
Did you know that most Hollywood blockbusters use the same basic 7-step story format? And of course, we, as consumers, lap that story up time and time again.
Because it makes us feel good about ourselves. We see our own lives reflected in the hero’s on-screen journey and it makes us believe that we too can have that life.
In this book Donald Miller explains the exact 7-step format these movies use, and shows how you can use it too as a framework for all your marketing messages. At the heart of it is writing copy that positions you as a guide or aid; not the hero there to save the day.
That simple psychological switch inspires prospects to take action, and embrace your offering, so that they too can be the hero of their own story.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
As an intrapreneur you’re always selling. Selling your vision to stakeholders, to management, to potential new team members, to gatekeepers and of course to prospective customers.
Which all means that being able to get buy-in and persuade people to take action is a core skill.
In this book, Cialdini sets out the six principles of persuasion:
- Commitment and consistency
- Social proof
- Authority; and
If you want people to take action (like, say, buying your product, or funding your venture) then this is the book for you.
Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini
In this follow-up to Influence, Cialdini looks at everything that happens BEFORE you attempt to persuade someone to take action. Hence the title: Pre-suasion.
The author proposes that the art of influence is really all about capturing and channelling your target’s attention. To put it another way, rather than try to change what people think (which is hard), try to change what people think about (easy).
The book provides a number of techniques you can use to, firstly, give you and your product a disproportionate amount of attention from your target, and then secondly, associate you with their picture of success.
Then, when you eventually make your ask, your boss or customer is ready and primed to say ‘yes’.
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely
This is a book about behavioural psychology. It’s about why we make the seemingly irrational decisions that we make… predictably.
Once you understand that this irrational behaviour, is in fact, totally predictable, you can then start to use various techniques to influence your customer to take the (purchasing) decisions you want them to take.
Topics covered include finding the right pricing, bundling offers, offering too much or too little choice, going against social norms, cheating, and the role of emotions, expectations and even sexual arousal on decision making.
Lean Project Management Books
Intrapreneurship is management. It’s just that it’s a different kind of management to the version you’re probably familiar with.
If you can lead a team and follow a process, then you can be a successful intrapreneur.
But what process should you follow? These books will help you understand that process and how to manage the team, day-in, day-out, all the time iterating towards success.
Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works by Ash Maurya
In this, Ash Maurya’s first book, he takes a detailed look at how you can iterate from your initial, theoretical business model, to a business model that actually works… one that results in paying customers.
It is a wonderfully pragmatic book, based on the author’s own experience of successfully launching startups.
Inside you’ll find processes and tools such as customer interview scripts that you can use to systematically test your business plan, and evolve to product-market fit.
We love that the book is brief and to-the-point. Dip into it, pick a tool, and go run that hypothesis test!
Kanban by David J Anderson
Kanban is Japanese for a “card you can see”. These cards live on a Kanban board and are used to plan and track progress in lean projects.
This book is a brilliant introduction to Kanban and how you can use them to lead a lean startup team and run a project.
It’s written in the form of case study, which makes it really easy to see how you would apply it yourself. It introduces the various different concepts step-by-step (just as you might do when introducing Kanban to a team that had never used it before). This means that it’s basically a roadmap you can follow to introduce it to your organization. You don’t need to read the whole book to understand or start using it. Just one chapter at a time. Implement, then move on. Brilliant!
Growth, Analytics and Idea Validation Books
Scaling; Growth hacking; Customer validation; Innovation accounting – there are so many terms used to describe this phase of a new product launch. But they all mean essentially the same thing: achieving month on month sale growth.
But before you get there, do you know what metrics to track that are leading indicators that traction is coming? And more importantly, do you know how to move the needle to achieve that traction more quickly?
If there is one skill that you need as an intrapreneur, more than any other skill, it’s being able to identify what is failing, and make rapid changes to iterate towards success.
These books will help you do just that.
Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success by Sean Ellis & Morgan Brown
In this book the authors study some of the world’s fastest growing companies (AirBnB, Uber, Dropbox and more) to discover what they did when they were early stage companies to enable them to grow so fast and leave competitors in their wake.
In Hacking Growth you’ll learn why the fastest growing companies focus on retention and revenue first, and then new customer acquisition later. You’ll learn how to structure a Growth Team, and how to discover the growth levers for your corporate startup that will allow you to deliver better results, faster.
Lean Analytics: Use Data to Build a Better Startup Faster by Alistair Croll & Benjamin Yoskovitz
This is a fantastic book. The authors show how all successful (corporate) startups have to go through five distinct stages in their evolution.
- Empathy. Where you connect with people to determine a real problem they have… one that you can solve.
- Stickiness. Where you figure out how to efficiently solve that problem in a way that people would be happy to pay for.
- Virality. Where you build product features that keep people coming back and referring friends to make the product itself better.
- Revenue. Where you start generating positive cash flow and making some real money.
- Scale. When you focus on sales and marketing, you’re growing exponentially and hiring lots of people, you know you’re scaling up.
For each stage you should focus only on one metric (the authors call it the One Metric That Matters) and focus all your efforts on optimising that metric, until you move on to the next stage.
Testing Business Ideas: A Field Guide for Rapid Experimentation by David J Bland & Alexander Osterwalder
In this book the authors show how to use lean experiments and hypothesis tests to rapidly figure out which parts of your proposed business model work, and which don’t.
In what I think is Osterwalder’s best book, he and Bland present 44 different types of MVP you can create to validate (or invalidate) your hypotheses.
The experiments are conveniently grouped into three categories depending on what you want to test: concept feasibility, desirability or viability.
The content in this book is easy to put into practice and very pragmatic. This one is a must-have for your bookshelf.
Scaling Lean: Mastering the Key Metrics for Startup Growth by Ash Maurya
Where Maurya’s first book (Running Lean) is about getting to a business model that works, this book is about what happens next. It’s about what happens when you have paying customers, and you begin to scale-up your business… but then you find things start to break under the strain of serving more customers.
How can you use lean practices and rapid, iterative learning loops to keep moving forward?
What metrics should you measure? What should you focus on first? How can you discover the constraints that are holding your business back? And how do you know what the root cause of your problems are?
This book will give you a step-by-step process to follow as you build traction with your product.
And so there you have it. Twenty eight awesome books that intrapreneurs should read to master their discipline in 2020. Enjoy!
If you prefer your learning to be more interactive, there’s no better place to start than our intrapreneurship training programme – a 9-week hands-on learning experience that will enable you to master intrapreneurship.