5 Lessons I Learned While Innovating with Corporates

If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.

If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.

As a corporate venture builder, this is one of the thoughts that passes through my mind on a daily basis. When working on projects, it’s important to see the contrasts between clients — every client should be treated according to their needs, even if the changes from the ‘usual’ methods are subtle. These variations, no matter how big or small, can mean the difference between failure and successful collaboration.

Over the last five years, my work has focused on accelerating innovation for both large and small companies. This has included long- and deep-change management, doing one-day co-creation workshops, and speeding up innovation through corporate ventures. Some of my more recent projects with Bundl include a new communication start-up (meet Roger) and a project with Microsoft, designing digital transformation workshops.

Bearing all this in mind, I’ve put together my top five lessons learned from all of the corporate ventures I’ve been a part of.

1. Everything has already been done

“Yes, we know that, we’ve done it before.”

That’s one of the things that I hear a lot during meetings. Whether it’s the innovation manager or the group as a whole, they’ve either thought of the idea in some way before, or used the method that I suggest. Most of the time, coming up with new ideas isn’t what’s most important; it’s about putting it into the right context. What’s valuable this time are the fresh perspectives from a different set of people and how the ideas are executed. As Mark Cuban said, “Ideas are worthless until you do something with them.”

2. Recognise the patterns

Sometimes it’s better to apologise afterwards than to ask for permission beforehand.

But sometimes it isn’t…

Over the years you come to realise that some corporates have systems in place, just for the sake of having a system. But, some have systems in place because they both want and need to work that way. As an outsider it’s important to quickly identify what sort of organisation you’re dealing with. Meaning, can you skip some time consuming meetings and steps? Or will taking away what they deem necessary come back to bite you later on?

3. Change the rhythm

This is most certainly true in the corporate world. One of the things you learn is that sometimes you just need to get out of the building. Break the rhythm of the organisation, or at least the small group of people you aim to innovate with, to help the idea flow.

4. Be there when you’re needed, but no more than that

Try to avoid the meetings that could have been e-mails, but be there when your presence is absolutely necessary. Make sure there is a clear understanding of what is to be expected by all parties. Be a collaborator, not a commander.

5. Utilise people’s talent and passion, don’t force innovation on them

When we work on innovation projects together, my clients and I always discuss how cool is it to have this unique opportunity to increase the success of the project, due in large part to the specialised skills in the team. The range of talents can be used to the full extent just by casting each member accordingly. When there is a role that can’t be filled by an internal team member, you have the chance to fill that position with an external expert, who can help to bring the fresh perspective that is needed.


It’s easy to reach the top, but much harder to stay there.

There’s a reason large companies are turning to corporate venturing. Everyone says you should act like a start-up to stay at the top. With the experience, resources, markets and customer base, everything is ready for for a successful venture. All it takes is injecting the right venture team to get started.

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