In Conversation with Darren Solomon and Sarah Van Lange – Part 1
Film exhibitors have been entertaining movie-going audiences since the early 1900’s, when the advent of the Nickelodeon exploded in popularity. Toronto-based Cineplex has a long history in the film exhibition business, and changes in content distribution and audience needs have required an entrepreneurial approach to stay ahead of new trends. We met with Darren Solomon, VP of Marketing at Cineplex, and Sarah Van Lange, Director of Communications, to discuss their point of view on intrapreneurship, their favorite movies, and what’s in store for the future (spoiler alert: it’s pretty cool). Here’s the first of a 2-part series.
How would you define an intrapreneur?
Darren: An “intrapreneur” is actually a corporate entrepreneur; a person who works in an organization and basically acts like a business owner in their own right. Business owners champion innovation and creative thinking and believe that things can be done in a better way. There are a lot of people who are actually doing this every day, and may not even realize that they would be considered intrapreneurs who are taking advantage of new opportunities and thinking of new ways to solve problems.
Sarah: Cineplex has a culture that fosters entrepreneurial thinking, and that is only possible when you have a forward-thinking senior leadership team who encourages risk-taking and big ideas. Our C-Suite provides a platform for innovative ideas to come to life.
How do you approach planning as an intrapreneur?
Darren: In an ever-changing industry, the need to pivot is really important. I approach planning in an ambidextrous way: on one hand, you have your long-term priorities, and it’s important that everyone aligns towards common goals. Simultaneously, in a world where everything happens in real time, you have to be extremely flexible and agile to respond to circumstances (and even create new opportunities) that ladder-up to the broader goals. You have to balance macro and micro plans at the same time.
So what stunts the growth of new opportunities?
Darren: Planning gets blocked by a lack of prioritization, communication, and too much hierarchy. When people aren’t on the same page, things can’t happen.
Everyone must have a voice: new ideas and opportunities can’t flourish in a “yes, ma’am” or “yes, sir” culture. If a leader isn’t empowering employees to be free thinkers in a positive and challenging way, new ideas won’t surface — and team members won’t be empowered to identify and take advantage of new opportunities. In entrepreneurial environments, you’ll see that often people value having their contributions, voices, and ideas heard and recognized just as much as financial compensation. If organizations are too hierarchical — and if a new team member can’t be heard — that person won’t be engaged over the long term.
What sorts of tools do you use as intrapreneurs?
Darren: there’s definitely no magic bullet when it comes to tools, but whiteboards are critical for team communication and sticky notes are important because they enable more free thinking – for example, I actually don’t even have a traditional notepad – I only carry around sticky notes, and then use my Notes, OmniGroup and Wunderlist apps. For software, I’m a fan of Workfront, a web-based tool on the creative side used for resource planning, project management and analytics insights. I also like some of the innovation collaboration tools out there that empower employees at all levels and locations to pitch new ideas. We also use Slack to discuss new projects and as a shortcut for quick communication.
Before adopting a new piece of software, though, it’s important to first identify the problem that needs to be solved. I’ve heard of cases where teams work with software that’s too bloated with too many functions, or in other cases too lean. Software and tools can be great, but you have to figure out what you need to resolve, adopt accordingly, and ensure that it helps people throughout the organization connect new projects to broader business objectives. It’s also really important to make sure that you’re training people properly and have some internal owners of those tools to champion them and do the change management piece.
What’s a quote you find useful?
Darren: I say this all the time: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, and an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” — Winston Churchill