6 Key Takeaways From Our Interview With Andrew Binns, Co-Author of Corporate Explorer

Discover the key insights we gained during our chat with Andrew Binns, co-author of Corporate Explorer.

Andrew Binns, co-author of Corporate Explorer
Andrew Binns, co-author of Corporate Explorer

One of the best ways to sharpen your corporate innovation game is to learn from fellow innovators, entrepreneurs, and change leaders who understand the journey and what it takes to succeed. 

We recently caught up with Andrew Binns, co-author of “Corporate Explorer: How Corporations Beat Startups at the Innovation Game". With over 25 years of advisory experience at companies like McKinsey, IBM Corporation, and Change Logic, Andrew shared some of the unique perspectives, insights and learnings gained throughout his career.

In the extended video interview, Andrew discusses the inspiration behind the book, which showcases the success stories of leading corporations that have overcome disruption, fueled innovation and tapped into new markets by: 

  1. Knowing how to effectively leverage existing assets
  2. Working with corporate explorers that have the right set of characteristics 
  3. Applying the three disciplines of innovation: ideation, incubation and scaling 
  4. Cultivating a culture of accountability, transparency and ambition
  5. Knowing the difference between “activity” and “outcome”
  6. Knowing how to proceed during times of uncertainty 

Let’s take a closer look at each of these key takeaways.

Takeaway 1: Know how to effectively leverage your existing assets

(4:32 in the video)

Binns counters the misconception that startups have a competitive advantage over corporations, pointing out the reality that most startups scale by getting acquired by corporates.

He then moves on to talk about the greatest advantage established companies have over startups: their existing corporate assets. In the word of the author:

“The thing that a corporation has over a startup is assets, actual customers, revenues, 
product capabilities - these are things that a startup struggles to find.”

Examples of corporate assets include access to funds, customer networks, industry know-how and partnerships. The challenge for corporations is knowing how to effectively leverage those assets in a way that creates value and impact.

The key to success lies in the ability of corporations to act like a startup by ideating and incubating new ideas while also leveraging the assets of the core business to build new ventures and scale them.  

Takeaway 2: Cultivate a culture of ambition, accountability and transparency 

Ambition 

(6:13 in the video) 

Binns explains that to succeed in innovation initiatives, the scale of your ambition should be equal to the threat or opportunity of disruption. Having big ambitions from the start influences your decision-making process and enables you to achieve big results. 

He also provides steps to make ambition tangible by setting measurable aspirations that align with the company's mission and vision. As an example of ambition in senior teams, he cites Ajay Banga, the former CEO of Mastercard. Back in 2012-2013, Banga’s goal was to “wage a war on cash” by converting 85% of cash transactions into digital ones. Knowing exactly what success would look like, he was able to tackle the mission, set tangible goals and get stakeholders on board.  

On the other hand, if you're trying to influence a senior team from a lower position, you’ll need to help them see the opportunities you see. One practical way to do this is by drafting a strategy manifesto, which creates a pathway for corporate explorers in the organisation to step forward and turn their ambitions into reality.

Accountability

(15:27 in the video)

According to Binns, one of the great corporate innovation myths is that we should give innovators free reign to go about their own agendas. He goes on to argue that they shouldn’t be accountable for revenue or traditional business outcomes but should have set milestones and acquire tangible learnings in set timeframes. 

Transparency

(16:40 in the video)

Binns goes on to explain that transparency is crucial in corporate exploration because covering up the challenges and roadblocks encountered along the way can lead to a lack of trust later on. In the words of the author:

“One of the most common points at which a corporate explorer fails is when they cover 
up a problem, for example, when the route to market they thought was going 
to work doesn't or when customers aren't adopting at the rate anticipated.”

This is a common problem because being completely honest about problems (e.g. not having enough users, not anticipating changes in the market) contrasts the traditional view that managers should always tell a great story and have the right answers.

Takeaway 3: Work with corporate explorers that have the right set of characteristics 

(17:50 in the video)

Binns describes successful corporate explorers as humble, explaining that they often let others feel that they’ve greatly contributed to the success of a project. They’re also not afraid to admit when they don't know something, which helps them build social capital and connections.

Building social capital is crucial because it enables you to succeed with your investor base. The more advocates, ambassadors and sponsors you have within your corporation, the greater your chances of solving challenges and reaching your goals. 

Successful corporate explorers also tend to be deeply focused on solving customer problems, and they often have personal experiences that drive them to find a solution. It’s this first-hand experience that puts them in the best position to solve pain points and understand their target audiences. 

Lastly, successful corporate explorers tend to have what Binns dubbed “maverick personalities”, which means that they’re not afraid to go against the tide and challenge the status quo to explore and experiment. 

Takeaway 4: Apply the three disciplines of innovation: ideation, incubation and scaling 

(23:18 in the video)

Successful innovation strategies are made up of three disciplines, described by Binns as follows:

  • The ideation process is about generating a set of possible customer problems to solve, and then coming up with a wide array of different ideas to solve those problems.
  • Incubation is about carefully choosing a few of those ideas to work on, validating critical assumptions upon which the business is based, and experimenting to learn what works and what doesn't.
  • Scaling is about measuring rates of customer adoption, channel capacity, audience reach, and advertising to ensure that the business grows at a healthy rate.

He goes on to explain that the toughest part of the innovation process is moving from incubation to scaling, where resources must be committed, and there is more risk. It's important to have clear hunting zones for innovation and to avoid doing too much, as this can lead to a lack of focus and resources.

Takeaway 5: Know the difference between “activity” and “outcome”

(28:16 in the video)

According to Binns, it’s quite common for corporate venture units to place too much focus on activities like startup engagement, idea competitions, ecosystem building and other exploration activities. While these activities are necessary, he also highlights the importance of measuring outcomes and creating scaled businesses that generate actual revenue. In the words of the author:

“It's all about outcomes; how many scaled businesses have you created, what capabilities have you built, and how do you generate revenue? These outcomes are led by corporate explorers with an idea, who win a sponsor, who get backing and then drive it.”

Takeaway 6: Know how to proceed during times of uncertainty 

(31:31 in the video)

Our business landscape is changing fast, with factors like inflation, rising interest rates, and a possible recession making things highly uncertain. Binns argues that it’s important for corporations to continue to innovate and look to the future rather than turning inwards. 

Additionally, he explains that corporate innovation is not just about ideation, incubation, and scaling. On a deeper level, it's about constant change. While companies are right to act more cautiously and not commit huge resources, it is valuable to keep exploring new options and opportunities. Having a deliberate set of experiments enables companies to adapt fast when the markets start to turn. 

Closing thoughts

Use the takeaways described above to help boost your innovation strategy and navigate today’s complex and rapidly changing landscape. For more in-depth insights and some pretty inspiring success stories, be sure to check out the full video interview with Andy Binns here

This interview is part of a series of conversations we’ve had with our extended Bundl family, including a chat with Ralf Specht, author of “Beyond the Startup”, and Jerker Dammbro, CEO at Glow by Norway Post. Check out these resources for additional expert advice and guidance on corporate venturing.

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