Intrapreneurship – more popular than ever(?)

Intrapreneurship as a sub-field of entrepreneurship
has increased in importance.”1

”Intrapreneurship […] has become crucial for organizations to survive and maintain their competitive advantage”2

”Intrapreneurship declared must-have skill for 2020”3

There seems to be quite a lot of interest for intrapreneurship these days, right? But is it really popular, or only very interesting to a small group of believers?

Google Ngram Viewer

One way to measure the popularity of intrapreneurship as a concept over time is to look att how often it is mentioned in literature.

N-grams are any (n) number of words put together in a particular sequence4. ”Intrapreneurship” is a 1-gram, ”Corporate innovation” a 2-gram, ”public sector innovation” a 3-gram etcetera.

What Google Ngram Viewer does is chart n-gram frequencies in a large corpus of books and scientific literature (about eight million books, or six percent, of all books ever published5. The charts are generated by dividing the number of an n-gram’s yearly appearances by the total number of n-grams in the corpus in that year.

I’m using the tool to get a hint here, not as scientific evidence. This Wired article from 2015 gives a good understanding some pitfalls of Ngram Viewer data (most of them doesn’t apply for this use). For more on how to use the tool in science with some credibility, see Younes & Rieps 2019.

Using a simple search in Ngram Viewer, we see that there’s an uptick in literature in 2019.

Screenshot from Google Books Ngram Viewer6

Short explanation of other n-grams charted above:
• Corporate innovation: Another term for (corporate) intrapreneurship
• Corporate ventures: Another term for (corporate) intrapreneurship
• Public sector innovation: Another term for (public) intrapreneurship

Trends for some of the corresponding terms in French, German and (simplified) Chinese are different but also indicating a rise in quantitative popularity. One main difference is that the n-grams catches on later in these languages. Moreover, similiar terms and words in English can be used to compare trends in their quantitative popularity (e.g. six sigma’s decline).

The term ”organizational innovation” is both older and more often mentioned in literature than intrapreneurship, but less precise. It also (and perhaps primarily) addresses change introduced from outside the organizations7. By comparison, ”corporate innovation” is more focused on internal processes.

One big problem with Google Ngram Viewer is that does not show how many people that have actually paid any interest in the work published.

What about the actual interest then? Can we check for trends there? Well, there’s always Google Trends for that.

Google Trends

Google Trends shows ”largely unfiltered sample”8 of search requests made to Google. In the words of Trends’ FAQ: ”those relying on Google Trends data should understand that it’s not a perfect mirror of search activity.” Possible reasons for Google to obscure data are:

  1. to protect personal information,
  2. to mitigate unwanted manipulations of search results9 and
  3. to protect other business interests.

Google explain their decision to make only samples of search requests available to searches in Trends with performance optimization: ”Providing access to the entire data set would be too large to process quickly.”

When plotting changes in search frequency and differences between different search queries, Google normalizes the data:

• Each data point is divided by the total searches of the […] time range it represents to compare relative popularity.

• The resulting numbers are then scaled on a range of 0 to 100 based on a topic’s proportion to all searches on all topics.

Google Trends FAQ, Nov. 23, 2020
Screenshot from Google Trends

Some search terms are also grouped in ”Topics” by Google. The topic ”Intrapreneurship” shows a somewhat more decisive uptick than queries like the pictured above, where ”search terms” and not ”topics” are used.


Another way to get a sense of how popular interest has changed over time is to see how often a Wikipedia article has been viewed over time, with the help of Wikishark for example. Here, the result is interesting. There seems to have been a sudden increase in interest for the page ”intrapreneurship” in 2015, only to then decline gradually.

This does not, as far as I can see, quite correlate with an increased interest in editing the term:

Screenshot from Xtools article info tool10. (”IP edits” are changes done by others than registered logged-in Wikipedia-users, where only the IP-address of the editor is logged.11)


So, has the term intrapreneur really gained momentum in later years?

In the words of RUN-DMC:

But to some extent, maybe, yes.

(Photo of Ramadan siesta for cats by Alisdare Hickson, Flickr)

  1. Blanka, C. (2019), ”An individual-level perspective on intrapreneurship: a review and ways forward”, Review of Managerial Science volume 13, 919–961 (2019).
  2. Gawke et al. (2019), ”Measuring intrapreneurship at the individual level: Development and validation of the Employee Intrapreneurship Scale (EIS)”, European Management Journal 37, 2019, p. 806-817
  3. Press release on recruitment firm Michael Page’s third annual 100 in-demand skills report, retrieved August 28, 2020
  4. As explained by Prachi Kumar here
  5. according to Younes & Rieps, 2019
  6. Retrieved November 22, 2020.
  7. Demircioglu M.A. (2016) ”Organizational
    Innovation”. In: Farazmand A. (eds) Global Encyclopedia of Public Administration, Public Policy, and Governance. Springer, December 16, 2016 (accessed November 18, 2020), DOI
  8. Google’s FAQ about Google Trends data
  9. i.e. Black Hat SEO
  10. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  11. A lot of cloaked IP-addresses are blocked by Wikipedia.

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