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Money Alone Won't Fix Economy

These are tough economic times, not just for individual Americans, but also for companies big and small. And sometimes when a company needs to rethink or even reinvent itself, intrepreneurship is called for.

Not entrepreneurship. Intrepreneurship: creative thinking inside a company structure.

The hoped-for result is new products or new ideas of the sort that have enabled independent entrepreneurs to patent inventions, start companies, even get rich. There's less risk for intrapreneurs, but also less reward, because any profits that result must be shared with the company that is paying them and giving them all that free-thinking time away from their everyday tasks.

The classic example, featured in Henry Petroski's 1994 book, The Evolution of Useful Things, is the Post-it Note. These are the little writing pads in which sheets are stuck to each other at the top, so you can peel off one at a time and attach it to a book page or your wall or the refrigerator door.

The Post-it Note was invented by a fellow named Art Fry, who worked at the big 3M Company in Minnesota. He also sang in his church choir, and he would mark his place in the book of hymns by turning down the page.

This, of course, was sternly discouraged by the choirmaster. Fry tried sticking scraps of paper at the spot he wanted to mark, but they kept slipping out, and he'd lose his place. So he went back to his lab and came up with the perfect bookmark - the Post-it Note.

That idea made both him and 3M a lot of money. And now many companies are turning their brightest workers loose, for hours or days at time, to think of similar money-making ideas.

Intrapreneurship is in, big time, right now.

Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.