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Corporate Explorers: What They Do & How to Become One

By Anthony Taylor - February 07, 2022

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Untitled design - 2021-12-27T131748.040  Anthony: Hey there, folks, welcome to the Strategy & Leadership Podcast, where we interview smart people from around the world doing great things, and today is no exception. Today I get to chat with Andy Binns, who is the Director at Change Logic. Andy, how's it going today?

Untitled design - 2022-02-02T132716.971  Andy: It's going very well. Thank you. Very delighted to be here to speak with you and your your listeners.

Anthony: Me too. I'm so excited. You've done so many cool things. You were telling me that you got just got off the phone with the other continent. Why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about who you are, how you got to where you are, and some of the notable organizations that you've worked for and with?

About Andy & his work

Andy: Sure, so I am an advisor, facilitator consultant working with a lot of companies around the world. And we help them figure out how to lead innovation successfully. And so it's sort of what many people regard as an oxymoron, right? My dad was in the Royal Air Force. And he always used to say that military intelligence was an oxymoron. Well, corporate innovation for many people is an oxymoron - it can't possibly exist together in the same sentence. But it's what we do.

And we work with many different firms, some technology firms, insurance, a bunch of different firms. I learned this when I was working at IBM, in sort of early 2000s.. we created a number of multi billion dollar firms out of the assets that IBM had. And so we kind of honed an approach to how you do that. And so we've worked with the American technology, firm Analog Devices, we've worked with Intel, we've worked an insurance company in Europe, we're working with General Motors, we're working with NEC Corporation in Japan, you know, we have quite a broad reach of companies that we work with.

Anthony: That's awesome. And yes, yeah, I think he also worked for McKinsey.

Andy: Forgive me, please.

Anthony: No problem. Well, what I found that you just so casually mentioned was 'I work with this organization that you know, we just spun off a couple billion dollar companies from from our innovation'. And what I find fascinating about that, is that in the early 2000s, there was really an opportunity for innovation. And then when you created the right product/service/sequence offering for the market, there was such a green field or blue ocean or whatever other strategy term you want to use to be able to deploy that. And I'm curious about your perspective and what you see now for the future in 2022. So here's my question. As we think of corporate innovation in 2022, what are some of the things that really excite you about the marketplace, about technology, about people? And we'll go from there.

What is a corporate explorer?

Andy: I'll answer your question, but I want to just address one thing you said that, I think it's kind of important. So the way we think about this is that these episodes of innovation in large corporations are led by somebody, and we call them the Corporate Explorer. And that's the name of the book that we've just published. And they've Corporate Explorers right now. So when we talk about Corporate Explorers today, the interesting thing is this has been going on for decades. This is not new, like corporations have always had Corporate Explorers. You can go back to the ATM machine. For those of us who still use cash, so maybe these are coming out of out of usage now. But if you go to an ATM machine, the first ATM machine was created out of the 300 year old British company Delarue. And it was a manager working for Delarue who came up with the idea and who generated it.

So I want us to always be thinking that, that this notion of corporations being able to generate innovation, generate new businesses is more common than we understand. Right. And so with that, let me come to the question what what should we be looking looking for? Obviously, digital is everywhere and pervasive. And so it's about connectivity. It's about data that is being captured in environments that previously you couldn't know about. And it's then about our ability to process those data and develop insights with with AI and so on. What I think is interesting about that, is that many of the opportunities for corporate innovators involve skipping over their current customers in some cases, right?

Because if you go into a technology firm, for example, there are many technology firms who build different base layer technologies that get built into applications, that then become used in factories, hospitals, at home or whatever. And previously, there was always this layer of people who would act as integrators or OEMs, for different devices or whatever. But actually, many of these technologies now are going to be accessible to a broader set of different makers and technologists, IT startups, because they can be accessed. And you can use virtual tools to design circuit diagrams or to see how different components will work together. This is an exploding area of possibilities, I think. And that principle of skipping over a layer of the market will be true in other domains as well. So this is one of the threads that I expect to become incredibly important in the next 5/10 years.

Anthony: Cool. Well, I definitely want to ask you about this skipping over customers, specifically from a strategy perspective. Because we look at a strategy timeline of three years because innovation is so fast, and that is the core customer, but what about in the future? But before I do that, going back to the idea of a Corporate Explorer. The way I hear it is distinct from an innovative organization that requires innovative people to be brave. Then presumably, the environment for them to thrive and fail within that is accepted and even celebrated. So maybe you can tell us a little bit about the Corporate Explorer and how it came to be?

Examples of corporate explorers

Andy: Yeah, totally. So my first Corporate Explorer was over 20 years ago, when I was working at IBM. And it was this woman at IBM. She started her career as a chemist, and she was a scientist. She moved into IBM, and learned the computer industry. She had an opportunity to bring her sort of domain knowledge of science into application at IBM. That opportunity came about because the business was interested in exploring into new areas. She was fortunate, not like all of our Corporate Explorers. She was fortunate as having a Head of Strategy and a business who was saying, Yeah, we need to find new areas of growth. But like all of our Corporate Explorers, it took her personal commitment, passion, determination to make this happen.

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And so I talk about Corporate Explorers as not being given this job, they take it, right. Another example of a Corporate Explorer is a Hungarian manager in an insurance company running an outpost in Hungary, which is a relatively small market in Europe. And he sees the opportunity to create a new digital insurance business, which I can describe. Rather than put forward a business plan and, you know, get it through maybe an ideas, competition, or any of these kinds of traditional routes. He works the social influence route. He talks to people, he gets the idea in front of managers. And eventually he gets to the CEO and the management board with the idea. And he doesn't just stand there with a dry story about what numbers he can reach and what revenue he can drive, he tells them a dramatic story. Here's a picture of the insurance company, you know, tower block with all of the army of administrators and loss adjusters and all the rest of it. And he says, I'm going to need three people. This insurance model I'm going to build is completely different to the one we've had. And let me tell you why. And his CEO says this, if this is true, this is a hand grenade into the insurance industry.. we've got to play in this. Otherwise, we will never learn what the future looks like.

And so my point is that he brought this to the attention of his senior team. And yet he needed an enlightened CEO. And he needed all the rest of it. But a lot of this has to do with his passion, his ability to tell a story, his ability to see the opportunity to solve a big problem in the world that matters. And it's true of many of the other Corporate Explorers that we talk about. So, yes, there's a corporate story, but there's also an individual leadership story that is true of these Corporate Explorers, that in some ways doesn't look different to an entrepreneur. And then they share a lot in common with them, they just make a decision to do it inside rather than outside the firm.

The problem with 'intrapreneur' 

Anthony: Yeah, that's kind of what I was taking away. Without using the word entrepreneurship or I hear intrapreneurship you know, that commitment to do something new and innovative. So

Andy: So this word intrapreneur has got a problem. Linguistically what it means is to innovate within the company. Intra means within. And that's not what we're doing. Typically, the Corporate Explorer is also at the avant garde of bringing the outside in, making the company much more sensitive to information about customer needs and priorities, and so on. And so it's just like, I just think it's like a terrible word from our point of view. It orientates us all wrong.

Anthony: Yeah, well I get that. From my perspective, just in my usage of it, is a entrepreneur within a company that does the same applications. But I also understand the semantics between the two. Okay, so Choose Your Own Adventure Time. Which would you rather talk about? How to foster the qualities of being a Corporate Explorer internally, so young leaders that say 'I really love pushing companies to the forefront'. I see that a lot with Tik Tok, which is a weird example. But brands that have been able to do Tik Tok successfully have created this like crazy space for themselves. So what do you want to speak to the people who are aspiring Corporate Explorers?

Or do you want to talk to the organizations that are curious and desire change, but might not have been able and desire that next level, but want to be able to foster that and support people within it? So I'll get you to choose which which audience do you want to talk to you today?

Andy: Good, good. Thank you. Well, I'm going to pick, honest, but I'm going to start off by saying I'm schizophrenic. Because necessarily, you know, I'm coming to you as two people, as Director of Change Logic, a consulting firm working with teams on innovation. I'm going to talk to the second audience and talk to organizations, how do they enable, how they set this up.

Message to aspiring corporate explorers

But I'm here with my other personality, as author of Corporate Explorer. And with that, there's no question about who I want to talk to. I want to talk to that aspiring Corporate Explorer, because this book is about how do we get them inspired, equipped, enabled to deal with the other guys? Right? It's very much a book about how do you manage the reality of what makes it hard? And also, what makes it possible? So I definitely want to talk to that first audience of the Corporate Explorer.

Anthony: Perfect, shoot! What do you want to tell them?

Andy: I want to tell them that it's possible to do it, right. And first off, think of this as being a mission of innovation and of change, right? So yes, you need to be just like any entrepreneur, you need to be really good at ideation, incubation, and scaling. And we know how to do these things, right? These are disciplines that have become more and more honed in, in business practice ideation. There's a ton of methodologies and techniques and ways of getting at 'what's an it compelling customer problem in the world that you're going to solve'? Never start with a solution. Start with the problem. Start with what you observe in an important customer group that you want with a consumer, be that a business, whatever it is, know what problem you're going to solve. And then by all means, develop an idea or a solution to that problem. And then you're going to incubate it.

And this is I think a leap forward in business practices, our ability to think about business experimentation, right? How do we test and learn ourselves towards a solution. I give our friend Steve Blank huge credit for teaching us how to think about this. And this is a big topic. And then scaling. To be fair, we know less about scaling. There's less written about it, it's less well known. We could talk some about what it takes to scale adventure in a moment if you'd like. Because that that's pretty important. But the point is these three disciplines, we can define, right? And so if you're an aspiring Corporate Explorer, know what those three things are about. But then you got to manage change. And one of the interesting things about managing change in organizations is that it is based on relationships and on the social capital that you can build with your colleagues and so on. And really, this is just like, you're going to go get funding from a venture capitalist. At some level, you have stakeholders, they're just different. And don't treat them like they're the same. They're not that different.

And understand where your allies are, where your advocates are, who's going to be that angel investor in the senior team, and understand what they need, and help them make you successful. Make them excited about what they've done to help you right there. It takes a little selflessness as well to make that work. So it's really this innovation and change that you need to work on.

Anthony: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think it's really cool. I mean, I had never thought about it in that perspective. So as an entrepreneur, as somebody who started a business as a serial entrepreneur, which makes it even more dangerous The idea of like, yeah, a lot of people can ideate, a lot of people can create an idea. And sometimes they create a lot of ideas with no follow through. The idea is a great part that is solving a problem, not being focused on the solution, which speaks to your final point about being concerned about the people you're serving, not concerned about yourself. The incubation means you need to build it to a level of success, whether that's an MVP, whether that's showing repeated success, because that's what you know.

If you look on Shark Tank, they say, Hey, what are your revenues? It's great to have an idea, we need you to have a revenue. And then if you go on Shark Tank, or Dragons Den or whatever, then that's the scale. All of them require a different set of skills, you do not need to do all of them. But I think you need to be a different person at those levels. Because your requirements and your relationships and your ability to manage different levels and scopes of change are going to be different depending on which game you're playing. Is that fair to say?

Andy: I think that's extremely well put, and this ability to learn. Right? You know, you're not gated by what you know, you're gated by your capacity to learn - the rate of learning that you have as an entrepreneur, as a Corporate Explorer. And part of the learning is about the market, about the need, the opportunity, but part of is about yourself, and the team that you lead. And the capacity to understand that what's appropriate at ideation is just different when it comes to scaling. And to be fair, not all entrepreneurs or Corporate Explorers make it all the way through. And some of them are really great. They're getting to incubation, and they'll go back to the beginning again. And that's okay, too.

Anthony: And I think what's interesting, we were talking about it without saying the C word, the changes that have gone on over the past two years, is like a required rapid innovation. And fortunately, the change had to stick because it stuck. Whereas other changes don't stick. And it goes to that change management, that incorporating it into the culture, where you had the winds of change, kind of blowing at your back. Whereas other organizations, you have more resistance. And so it's harder - even with a great idea, if you have too much resistance, it's not going to get across the line. But being the kind of person that's willing to make that change out of either expected upside or necessity, I think changes how you approach it, but doesn't change the outcome. You just need to have that that same system in place.

The myth of corporate inertia

Andy: Well, you know, this past two years - particularly 2020, kind of burst the myth of corporate inertia. Right? Oh, we can't do things quickly around here. They learn to pretty fast, right? My Austrian insurance client, learned to stand up a virtual call center in two weeks. That would have taken two years just to get it in front of the management board previously. So we have learned that firms can move fast if they choose to. And the question is always about motivation.

And that's the job of the Corporate Explorer, how do you make the story one of compelling opportunity, and also threat, right? So that need to move, to make the first commitment, to get started is something that feels unavoidable. And you know, as a serial entrepreneur, my guess is that, that's true when you go to raise funding from a VC firm, right? You've got to get them to the point where they really want to be a part of this.

Anthony: I have never actually gone to ask VCs, but what I find interesting is you use the word learned, like three, four or five times - as in it's not a state. It's not a fixed state. Like you can learn to do all of this stuff. And then when you talk about making the story - it's compelling enough to move that forward. So you need to be able to see, hey, I'm adopting this. And it's something that's worthwhile, like all change. But they have to be able to say, if it's not compelling enough, nothing's going to move. And for yourself as an individual, and as an organization, it is a new behavior that you need to foster and develop, not a steady state.

Everyone is continuously learning

Andy: Exactly. And the interesting thing is that, I'm talking to our corporate Explorer. And as a aspiring Corporate Explorer, let me tell you. I work a lot with CEOs of big corporations, and they have the same challenge. They're still learning, the best are still learning, they're still curious. And don't think of them as all powerful all knowing, they actually often are curious, they want to see people stepping forward in their organizations, who can articulate something about what they can do, to meet those kinds of challenges as to what's happening in the future. And if you shift your mindset towards that, you can make a lot of progress. And we all know that corporations wrestle with this challenge of how do I sustain the core business, while also exploring into new areas? And that's the paradox of being in a large organization that an entrepreneur doesn't deal.

And so this core and explore challenge is one that a CEO is managing all the time. Well, if you're a Corporate Explorer, you've got to know what motivations they have about the core that maybe this explorer could could pay attention to. Maybe it's a capability they want to develop, like, how do they connect to the cloud and develop subscription based services? That was very important a few years ago. Or indeed, how do you attract people to platforms? Whatever the capability might be, you can learn as a Corporate Explorer, you can teach the firms some of these things and be valuable, even before you monetize the business. Right, just in terms of the things you help the business to learn about the future changes in the marketplace.

Anthony: Yeah, absolutely. I think as we wrap up and start talking about companies, the organizations as they move from that core to explore phase. As they look at creating those opportunities for themselves. I heard like three things. How do you..? First, that curiosity. Second, the capability. What do I need to be able to do this? Like, how do I start putting it together from a capacity standpoint? And then outcomes. What are the outcomes that I want? Yeah, that's what I heard out of the framework to look at that.

What's the scale of your ambition?

Andy: Yeah, totally. You know, one of the things that corporations struggle with is the scale of my ambition. And it's interesting, we just talked the other day to a large retailer. And this is like, top notch stuff that they're doing. They have created a program by which they look outside for areas of opportunity. They bring entrepreneurs in to help them think about how to leverage the assets that the retailer has, that could help them explore those opportunities. They have their own venture capital firm that can take a stake in building out this brilliant stuff. This is outstanding innovation by a corporate company. And the Head of Strategy we speak with is like, well, that's really great. But I don't know if it's going to move the needle on our growth challenge. Why? Because it's lots of little things, lots of little possibilities.

And there's a repeating pattern with out Corporate Explorers when they start. Sometimes think about only small innovations, not ones that are really going to shift the business in a big way. And I would argue that most CEOs want to see those bigger ideas, the ones that have a path to a billion dollars, or maybe it's one hundred million, whatever the scale of the scale of the businesses. But something that's going to make a difference to the business. And that is appropriate to the scale of opportunity, rather than just the scale of what you think you're capable of, or what you think you can get funding to do, or what it is compared to the the growth rate of the business today. Because that's the way an entrepreneur thinks.

Jeff Bezos didn't sit there and think how could I sell a few more books? Right? He sat there and he thought about how can I dominate e commerce starting with books, right? And then what's my path going to be? And he builds a distribution network with the thought about the future, not the present.

And so I want Corporate Explorers to be thinking with that same mindset, what's my path to scale? From the beginning, I want a bunch of ideas about how that might happen. And we talk a lot about hypotheses, you know, testable statements that you can go out and learn from. And I want you to have this for thinking about scale, not just about how you're going to do something a little bit incremental, and a little bit interesting. Because many of those best in class innovation programs in corporations only teach you to do that little piece of what's interesting. And then the little stuff, I want to get much bigger with this. And in the book, we talk about people who've done that successfully.

Anthony: Cool. I love that. Well, I mean, one of the examples I think of is like Apple with their Air Pods. You might not have a game winning innovation every year, but when it hits, it really hits. So what I'm taking away from that is the awareness, understanding and foresight of looking at all of these little innovations, which is the first part. The idea. And then seeing which of these can we incubate? And even looking at that saying, hey, which one can scale? And then I guess we work backwards from there to see,

Andy: Always looking backwards. What's the scale of your ambition? And is it equal to the opportunity or threat of the disruption you face?

Anthony: Perfect. I love that. We got, folks. And where can people connect with you? Where can they learn more about the work that you do with organizations, and get your book?

Learn more about Andy & his work

Andy: Well go to Amazon or your favorite e commerce vendor for Corporate Explorer. And it's released on February 2, in the US and globally in March. And changelogic.com is my business. Find me on LinkedIn, love to hear from anybody who's interested in this topic, love talking about it, and learning about it as well. This book is full of things other people have taught me. And so I'm always open to new learning.

Anthony: Awesome. Well, what I think is so cool about not only the concept, the idea, and the wording behind it, but it really gives somebody like a hat to put on within an organization. A hat that they can take on and say today (whether that's the CEO, or whether that's somebody inside an organization) I'm the one being tasked with that next step. And I think like in the early 2000s, where transformative change happen, I think we're in for a lot of it very fast, and from companies that we have no idea who they are. But they're going to have a big enough idea that's going to make some some big things. And perhaps I'm naïve that that's how the world is going to become a better place because we're going to solve all of the world's problems, but I got my fingers crossed. So Andy, thank you so much for joining us today. It's been such a pleasure.

Andy: Likewise, thank you very much.

Anthony: Ladies and gentlemen, folks and people. My name is Anthony Taylor, my guest Andy Binns, who is the Director of Change Logic, and the author of the Corporate Explorer, please check them out. Think of how you can take that next level of scale in your organization or for your organization. And if you enjoy today's episode, be sure to like it and give us a comment about what innovations you're putting through in your organization.

My name is Anthony Taylor. This has been the Strategy & Leadership Podcast. Thanks so much for watching. And until next time!

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