Innovation is often seen as the realm of startups, and corporate innovation is not something that rolls off the tongue very easily. Andrew Binns knows this shouldn’t necessarily be the case. His book, Corporate Explorer, explains how managers can lead innovation from inside large corporations. Joining Alicia Dunams on the show, he explains how corporations can leverage their key strengths to beat innovative startups at their own game. Key to this is the concept of the “corporate explorer,” which combines the best qualities of the startup entrepreneur and the corporate manager to create a new kind of leader that has the ability to drive change and experimentation in a seemingly monolithic corporate environment. Join in and learn more about this interesting concept that might just redefine corporate leadership as we know it.
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Corporate Explorer: How Corporations Beat Startups At The Innovation Game With Andrew Binns
I am very excited to introduce Andy Binns, who is the Cofounder of Change Logic, a Boston-based strategic advisory firm. He works with CEOs, boards and senior teams as they lead significant business change. His goal is to help organizations liberate their potential to excite the world with innovation. Andy has many years of consulting experience as both an external and internal consultant for McKinsey & Company, IBM Corporation and Change Logic. We are bringing Andy here to talk about his book, Corporate Explorer: How Corporations Beat Startups at the Innovation Game.
Andy, I am so excited to have you here. I know you are a co-author of this book. Please share who you co-authored this book with.
I am very pleased to be with you here and with your audience. I am delighted for the opportunity to talk about the book more broadly. I do so many discussions about the book, which are very narrow. I love the invitation that you have made to talk about it. My co-authors are Professor Michael Tushman from the Harvard Business School and Professor Charles O’Reilly from the Stanford Business School.
The fact that I had two senior business school professors marking my work may come up during the discussion of the writing process. It was fun. They are great friends of mine. We have worked together for many years but it was me writing the book and they were inputting. I discovered what academics mean when they say, “You are first author.” What it means is, “You do the work. We will tell you why you need to correct it.”
Thank you for starting off with that because I always ask the question, “Why did you write a book?” I love that you had co-authors because that supports you in the writing process to get that feedback in real-time.
It is quite tough to get feedback as an author in the process. I will answer the question, “Why did we write the book?” We do this consulting and we work for companies wrestling with how they innovate. We can talk more about what that means. I had written a lot of this book a few years ago and we took it to an agent and the agent was like, “Why would you want to publish this? No one wants to read this nonsense.” They were far more polite than that, but I was certainly discouraged and that is all that I heard, so I walked away from it.
I was sitting down with a client in Vienna. It was a fine, elegant place to be doing this. He becomes one of the characters in the book, Krisztian Kurtisz. I was like, “What he is doing is a great story about his personal journey to do this.” Enough of the strategy and the theory and the rest of it. From a human standpoint, what he has put out there himself and what he has done is a story worth telling. That reignited my passion for this book because I suddenly felt like I had something important to say in the world of innovation that had not been said.
I have an eclectic background. I was a technical writer at Genentech. I have been in the corporate world, mostly as an entrepreneur. I lived in Silicon Valley in San Francisco. Something that was a mainstay or known is that innovation in the startup world and a corporation is where you maintain the status quo. The same person who starts a startup is not the same person who would maintain a corporation with all the checks and balances. That is something I assumed. The rebels start innovation and the people who are in suits and ties maintain it and make sure things are getting done. That is why I liked the premise of your book because you are challenging that.
There is nothing wrong with what you are saying. Entrepreneurs are clearly different from corporate managers. There is no question. One of them is exploratory and very interested. A classic entrepreneur often is very interested in the thing that they are doing and the content of it, whether it be a technology or a service. They get very excited about what they are doing. The corporate manager is much more stability-oriented and much more about measurements of things and processes. Another piece of this is the people who are more people-oriented.
If you are more people-oriented, you tend to stay within a group. You want to be a part of a community and you may still be exploratory. Those are the corporate explorers because they want to do something within a community. I have speculated that a follow-on book might be the Social Explorer. To some degree, you find this in the nonprofit sector as well as people who create something around them as a community. They are quite different from people who are still very individualistic creators or entrepreneurs.
You see this different profile of people everywhere. The thing that defines the corporate explorer or their difference from the entrepreneur is their ability to mobilize a group. It is to be a part of something. Usually, they have been with the company for 10 or 20 years. These are not, “Let’s hire an entrepreneur to teach us how to do innovation.” These are people who have been sitting around the company all along and they get ignited by an opportunity or by an idea that they see and want to change in the world. They work within the community that they are a part of to make it happen.
Are you hired into these organizations to ignite that innovation or to support them in harnessing the innovation or show them where there are opportunities?
Most often, our first contact is with the chief executive of the company. Their question to us is, “I know you want to move into this new market. I do not quite know how. I do not have the people to do it. I do not know who is going to do this.” We work with them personally to scope out where they are going to innovate and then find the people because they are there most of the time. They just need freedom, space and opportunity. We talk about it as giving them a license to explore. Once you can do that, you can release that energy in the organization.
Most CEOs want that. It is one of those paradoxes where we think, “It is the CEO. They do not empower us enough. They do not make this happen.” There is this disconnect. Most CEOs I spent my time with want to see these ideas. They want more entrepreneurial people in their organization. They want to give them opportunities to do this. They just have a hard time figuring out how to make it work. That is what we do and some of those stories are in the book. The stories in the book are not just things that we have done. They are the stories we have learned through our work overtime. I do not want to take credit in any way for any of the extraordinary achievements of the people we described in the book.
Are you finding because CEOs are encouraging more entrepreneurial thinking in their organization, there is a lot that comes with it? What we are seeing is more entrepreneurs or people who are creating personal brands outside, like writing books, podcasts, panelists and speaking on things. It could become a little too big sometimes and the CEO is like, “They are going to leave.” I am sure that is something that might come up.
I have met some of those people during the process of having published the book. People who have a corporate career and they do podcasts and so on. That is a great thing. It does reflect an interest in exploring. I would want to take some of those people and figure out what else they can do for sure.
Purpose, ambition and social capital are the three most important qualities of the successful corporate explorer.
I have a lot of people come to me who work in corporate and who are writing books and wanting to create a side business as well. I find that to be an interesting personality. Let’s go back to your book, the Corporate Explorer. I want you to share with our audience some leadership and life lessons that you share in the book that could be applicable to anyone reading this.
The big one is to be driven by purpose. These are not people who look at a spreadsheet and say, “Perhaps there will be a way we could drive additional gross margin if we did things this way.” They see something in the world that inspires or frustrates them. Let me give you a couple of examples, Krisztian Kurtisz, who is the man I mentioned who first got me down this road of thinking about the Corporate Explorer. He was a manager in the Hungarian business of a big European insurance company, UNIQA. He is a responsible manager doing an important job, but he is not the CEO. He is not at the top of the company hierarchy.
He is frustrated because he says, “Insurance as an industry has forgotten why it exists. It exists for communities to pool risk and to support one another in bad times.” That is the point. This started in the 17th century in Holland and Britain. Now, these are tower blocks of people administrating policies and trying to catch theft from their customers. The whole premise of the business has changed. They have lost sight of what they are there for. He has this insight and he said, “What if we could use digital tools to reinvent insurance as risk-sharing communities?” He launched this business called CHERRISK.
The CHER refers to cherries. As you engage with CHERRISK, you earn cherries and you can then distribute those cherries in your community as gifts to a youth group or to whatever you decide on a charity. He was trying to reinvent that same thing. It is also on a monthly subscription. It is very flexible and very easy to use and all of these kinds of good things. That passion that he has is strong. The next thing is to have a high scale of ambition. This is one of the things that marks the successful corporate explorer from the unsuccessful.
If you are in a company, the logical thing to do if you have a great idea is to say, “This idea will get us a little bit better and you only have to invest a small amount to help me do it.” You think, “If we could get started, they will see the possibilities of what we could do.” The reverse is the case because you need to have an idea that the consequence is equal to the threat or the opportunity of disruption. It’s like what an entrepreneur does. They do not look at the market and say, “We could do a little bit.” They think, “Amazon was not built to be a bookstore. It was built to be a retail platform from the start.” That scale of ambition is so important.
Krisztian went into his management team and he had this visual image. He said, “Here is your tower block, the UNIQA tower, with thousands of people. Mostly, they just administrate. They do not deal with customers. That is not their work. I am going to deliver this customer value proposition in a totally different way and I only need two people to do it. It can do all the things this business can do.” His CEO said, “This was like a nuclear bomb underneath our industry. If we do not do it and somebody else does, we are going to be in trouble.” That scale of ambition that he brought to it was so important.
The third thing is the social network. How do you get others to make you successful? That requires some humility. That is a little bit different from many entrepreneurs, many of the successful ones that we know of. I do not want to malign people but we know that there are certain more narcissistic tendencies in some entrepreneurs. You do not get that with corporate explorers.
What you get is much more humility and much more willingness to have other people feel that they made them successful. “I need your help,” is one of the things that they say. It’s not, “Let me tell you how I am going to be successful and how I am going to succeed. What a great idea I have got.” It is about, “I need your help to make this happen because there is an opportunity in it.”
That is quite significant. That is one of the reasons why they tend to be with the company for a long time before they do this in a way because they have that set of relationships to use. Purpose, ambition and social capital are the things that are most important that you could take away from this book as leadership lessons.
It’s all of those that you shared, purpose and humility that you are speaking about. When the river rises, all boats rise. It’s coming from that place of community versus lone-wolfdome and doing things on your own. That is important. What are you finding to be some of the momentum from your book in the organizations that you are working with? Are you finding that people are feeling more empowered?
It is a little too early to say for sure. Anybody who has read the book, Corporate Explorer, will know that we talk a lot about the importance of hypothesis and evidence. I can have a hypothesis but I do not have quite enough evidence at this point. This term, corporate explorer, puts a label on something that people were not quite clear about what to call it before. You mentioned the word intrapreneur. I do not understand what that means. Intra means within.
There is an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur. You are in the safety of the corporate sphere.
You do not innovate inside. You innovate with customers. You go outside. It is totally upside down as a term. I do not get it. I do not think it ever caught on with CEOs. There is a language for normalizing it as a role. It has failed. It is a perfectly reasonable term. I do not mean to malign it. This is where I see where CEOs get quite excited by the idea.
People who are in this role get excited by the job because they can start to see, “That is my job. I know there is a core business, but there is also an explore business. I am different from them, but I am just as important that I have a role that needs to be clarified and understood and managed differently.” It is a respectable thing for someone to grow up to do. As a father, you can have your daughter grow up to be a corporate explorer and be proud of them. That is the thing that I see starting to happen and which we want to encourage as much as possible.
There is a website, TheCorporateExplorer.com. The other thing I would encourage people, if they are interested, to look at is The Corporate Explorers’ Club. We have a developing community. You can find it on LinkedIn. If you put in Corporate Explorers’ Club, you’ll find me on LinkedIn. This is trying to pool together those people who have this role or want to have this role or maybe used to have this role and try to create some peer learning and some opportunity for mutual support. That is one of the things that if people are interested, they can look out for.
Andy, I want to jump into the rapid-fire. What is going to be your legacy?
If there’s something you think needs to be done, don’t wait to be told. Figure out how to get it done yourself. If you face any obstacles, figure out how to remove them, because that’s what leadership is really about.
My legacy will be a lot of people who I have worked with will feel more excited about their work and more capable.
What is your favorite book?
Dava Sobel’s Longitude. In the 18th century, the British put out a competition for how you could navigate at sea. You can do latitude, but longitude is difficult. They would do it with a sextant with a position of the sun. At nighttime, it is somewhat inconvenient, or on a cloudy day. They had this competition of who could solve the longitude problem? Dava Sobel tells the story of how this goes about. It is an extraordinary tale because everybody expects it to be an astronomer or a lord but it is not. It is a Yorkshire, which for the British is the Northern part of the country that was more industrial in those days. It is a Northern clockmaker, a craftsman.
He figures out how you can have one watch for where you are like one for London. You can be able to tell from the difference in time wherever you are on the globe. He did not win the prize because the British establishment refused to accept that this could be true and eventually, he died. It is a story of great cut and thrust and skullduggery, but there is a fundamental about innovation and also about the way human groups work.
I used to live in England a bit. I lived in the Droitwich Spa area and worked in Cradley Heath, the Black Country. Who is your favorite author?
It’s Anita Diamant. She is the author of The Red Tent because she is a dear personal friend. I have to be loyal to such. I have read her book and have met the woman a few times. It is an amazing book. She had written many others about the area where I live in Gloucester, Massachusetts. She has written several books about this area.
What are you writing next? What is your next book?
I have not quite decided. I am interested in your view. It could either be the workplace rebel, which is a little related to corporate explorer. One of the things that this has triggered in the reaction to the book is people are like, “I am not building a business but I am rebelling against the standard conformity and the norms of the way things get done. I want to do more of it. How do I do it well?” I am quite interested in that.
We are seeing it happen. It is just the way the world is going and you got to stand out. Those corporate players and corporate explorers perhaps are being corporate rebels as well. I would love for you to share where people can find out more about you, your book and what you have coming up next.
Finally, Andy, I would love for you to share one piece of advice or things that you would want to leave our audience with.
One of the things about these corporate explorers is very rare that somebody gives them the job. They do it themselves. They do not wait to be told. They do not wait to be given the job. If there is something you think needs to be done, do not wait to be told. Figure out how to get it done yourself. Any obstacles you faced, you got to figure out how to remove them because that is what leadership is about. One of those things will be how to get others to act with you. That is what leadership is about.
That’s what leadership is, self-reliance and resilience. Andy, thank you so much for sharing your book, the Corporate Explorer. You can get it on Amazon.com. I appreciate you being here.
Thank you very much for the invitation. I enjoyed it.
Thank you, everyone. You be well.
Thanks for joining us on this episode. Sign up at AliciaDunams.com for valuable tips on life, leadership and business. You can also subscribe to the show on iTunes or via RSS so you will never miss a show. While you are at it, leave a review on iTunes or simply tell a friend. Remember, buy my book, “I Get To”: How Using the Right Words Can Radically Transform Your Life, Relationships & Business on Amazon.com. Tune in next time.
- Change Logic
- Corporate Explorer: How Corporations Beat Startups at the Innovation Game
- Michael Tushman
- Charles O’Reilly
- Barnes & Noble – Corporate Explorer: How Corporations Beat Startups at the Innovation Game
- The Corporate Explorers’ Club
- The Red Tent
- Andrew Binns – LinkedIn
- @AJMBinns – Twitter
- iTunes – Authoring Life
About Andrew Binns
Andrew Binns is a co-founder of Change Logic, a Boston-based strategic advisory firm. He works with CEOs, boards, and senior teams as they lead significant business change. His goal is to help organizations liberate their potential to excite the world with innovation. Andy has 25 years of consulting experience as both an external and internal consultant for McKinsey & Co., the IBM Corporation, and Change Logic.