Ep. 316 – Exploring Corporate Innovation with Andy Binns, Author of The Corporate Explorer Fieldbook

Ep. 316 – Exploring Corporate Innovation with Andy Binns, Author of The Corporate Explorer Fieldbook

On this week’s episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Andy Binns to talk about his follow-on book, The Corporate Explorer Fieldbook: How to Build New Ventures in Established Companies. Andy and I talk about what’s happening in the world of corporate innovation and offer some insights into what’s working and what’s not. Let’s get started.

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Interview Transcript with Andy Binns, Author of The Corporate Explorer Fieldbook & Co-founder of Change Logic

Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger, and as always, we have another amazing guest. In fact, we have somebody who’s been on the show before. Andy Binns. Welcome Andy.

Andy Binns: Hey, Brian. Thank you very much for having me back. I’m delighted to be here.

Andy BinnsBrian Ardinger: Andy, I’m so glad to have you back. For those who may not have heard you the first time around, you’re the Co-founder of Change Logic. And you have authored a new book called Corporate Explorer Field Book as a companion guide, I think, to your first book, which came out about a year and a half ago called Corporate Explorer. So again, welcome to the show.

Andy Binns: Thank you very much. That’s right. We have now the Red Book of Corporate Explorer and the Black Book of The Corporate Explorer Field book. Becomes a family of books. The trouble is, I haven’t figured out what the third one is, so I need, any, any ideas. I’m totally open to it.

Brian Ardinger: It always needs a trilogy. Right.

Andy Binns: Yeah, exactly. This is the Corporate Explorer Strikes Back. Right.

Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Let’s talk about the second book. Since we spoke in, I think it was March of 2022, so about a year and a half ago, you have been exploring this space of corporate innovation. What has happened? What are some of the key things that you’ve seen over the last 18 months that have changed or made you want to write a second book?

Corporate Explorer FieldbookAndy Binns: It’s interesting, isn’t it, Brian? This has been such a fascinating 18 months because you have at one side this real pressure on anybody who’s doing corporate innovation on budget. Interest rates going up, lots of renewed economic uncertainty.

And at the other side, we have people spending huge amounts of money on AI and putting lots of pressure on corporate innovation to say, what are we gonna do with it? Right? Mm-hmm. It’s a tremendous paradox and I think that the interesting thing is that companies are coming round to the understanding that AI is just a technology.

What you really need to understand is the business model. And this is a question of experimentation. So, it’s actually playing directly back into the world of the corporate explorer, very directly.

Brian Ardinger: Your first book, it talked a lot about, you know, how do you become a corporate explorer, introducing new ideas and things like this. The field book, the subtitle is How to Build New Ventures in Established Companies. So, talk a little bit about the evolution of the first book to the second book, and what are the key highlights of the second book.

Andy Binns: The thing about the second book is that this represents a movement. Really important to me is that this is not about a guru speaking with the answer. Right? This is about a community actually saying, this is what we do. This is how we’re approaching it. So, we have chapters by Bosch, General Motors, Intel.

There are some lesser well-known companies, but important ones, Analog Devices, Unica Insurance, who were in the first book as a case study. Now they’re in the book describing some of the things that they’ve done after that first book, right?

For me, it expresses something really important about how do we solve the issue of corporate innovation, which I just said really important when it comes to, Hey, we’ve got something dramatic happening in the world. You know, what are we going to do? Well, this is some of the things we actually do that work.

So, it’s similar in structure to the first book. You know, firstly, strategic ambition. How do we decide where we’re headed? Then innovation disciplines, ideation, incubation, scaling, and then the whole question of the organizational and leadership issues as to how you make arrangements for this to work in corporations, but also how if you are a corporate explorer, you’re going to get people on your side.

But again, rather than me pontificating on the topic, it’s actually practitioners, each chapter, different way of looking at the problem with tools and advice very practically built in. So, it’s an extremely applied book.

Brian Ardinger: It’s great to have some of those applied stories because a lot of times I talk to a lot of corporations myself and the first thing they ask is like, well, how do we do this? Yeah. And there’s no one silver bullet to make this happen. It, you know, all combines with the talent you have and the technologies you have. And what kind of vision, like you said, that you want to go after.

What are some of the biggest stumbling blocks for companies to even think about this and get moving on the path?

Andy Binns: And I think I’ve learned more about this in the last year, going around different companies, getting invited to speak places, hearing what people have to say. And the sort of the loudest story is, is yes, what, what I think was always there was this sort of having lots of ideas but no real strategy. No real sense of, well, why would this help create value?

Why would the customers form a habit around the use of your idea or product? And that tends to be weak, particularly if you are in a any kind of technical community. They tend to be a little bit weak on that. So that’s still there. And in this book, we’ve made a big focus on breaking out some of the topics we talk about in Corporate Explorer.

So, I talked to in corporate explorer about hunting zones and the importance of really shaping the markets that you are in. And in this book, I explain, you know, well, how do you define your hunting zone? But we also have this genuine innovation guru, Tony Ulwick, talking about how do you define your hunting zones? With a job to be done. Right. With that whole sort of body of work. So, he brings these two ideas together.

The second thing I think that which has really come loudly to me in the last 12 months is how many innovators in corporations go out to market with a sort of an immature business model. It’s solving a customer problem. It’s a pretty good idea, but they have no concept of the go to market.

They have no idea how they’re going to engage distributors, ecosystem, or any of these kinds of players around them. And you know, it has a fairly predictable trajectory, right? Because, you know, it turns out selling things matters. You, if you’re going to want to bring something to market.

Brian Ardinger: Does that happen a lot of times because they are fixed with their existing business models so that they approached it with the same like we know our customers and we know our distribution and that so we’ll, we’ll go about it the same way versus thinking about it or approaching it with a different lens saying, what if this was a brand new idea.

Andy Binns: I think that’s part of it, Brian. I mean, certainly one of the challenges thinking about one client I have right now, a large European company, and their issue is that their existing sales team kind of don’t want to know. So, this is definitely a challenge and close to what you’re saying. But I actually think that the other issue is that the corporate explorers often lack the understanding.

It’s outside of their experience. It’s not a problem they’ve had to tackle. You know, they’ve come up in a large organization and they may have had a product background or an engineering background or whatever. And the sales problem isn’t one that they’ve encountered, and therefore they make it easier by just ignoring its complexity.

So, I’ve got one client who’s making a move into the insurance industry with a really fabulous offering. And this is a very complicated ecosystem with insurers and reinsurers and agents and different types of agents. The customers within the people who buy, say corporate insurance, that they’re actually quite tied to brokers, not to a company providing the insurance.

And there’s a web of personal relationships in this. Walking through that series of complexities is quite, is tough for the innovator. They’re like, oh boy, that’s harder than I realized. And oh, you think personal relationships plays a role in that? However, are we going to tap into that? That can’t be a problem I can solve. Right? So, it just opens up a whole new set of things that they’ve got to worry about. So, I think that’s true. Your explanation’s true as well, but it, it’s a part of it.

Brian Ardinger: Yeah, the idea of holistically thinking about a business model versus my part of the business model oftentimes stops that innovation because you don’t have the right people on the team, I suppose.

Andy Binns: That’s it. There’s a point in these new ventures where you really need to think about diversifying the talent that you have. You know, as you may remember, one of my somewhat counterintuitive views may be controversial views is that when we look at our evidence of what makes for successful corporate explorer, more often than not, they’re a 10-year veteran of the company that they’re innovating within.

They’re not the hired hand with a track record. I’m here in Silicon Valley today. They’re not with a track record in startups in Palo Alto. Right. And that’s a little counterintuitive, but the interesting thing is there does come a point as the venture matures where you really need to get people from the industry you’re selling into. Right. Solving the go-to-market problem is, is tough.

Brian Ardinger: It’s very interesting because you, you do have to have that domain expertise to a certain extent, to see the insight that no one else has seen in the industry per perhaps. But also have the guess courage and or ideas enough to then pivot it and execute it in a way that’s different than what you normally are used to doing or approaching it.

Andy Binns: Yes, I think that’s right. I think that’s right.

Brian Ardinger: Let’s talk more about the book as far as, like you said, it’s more of a tactical guide for a corporate explorer trying to build a new venture. What are some of the key insights, like if somebody picks this book off the shelf, what are the some of the key insights they’re going to be taking home with them?

Andy Binns: There’s a tremendous set of chapters around these ideate, incubate, scale disciplines, right? So, the ideate piece, just generating ideas. We’re fortunate. We look both at, you know, just how do you activate people inside the organization to get breakthrough ideas. Kaihan Krippendorff has written a chapter there, but we also have one on crowdsourcing.

Which is, I think, still underutilized innovators are like out there in the fringes. It has enthusiasts, but the outcomes you can get from doing the crowd or open-source ideation is extraordinary. So, there’s chapters on that.

I think probably the most chapters are around Incubate. And this is my colleague from Harvard, Mike Tushman, and I debate is scaling the place where people fall down more often than, or is it incubate? Right? And he’s like, all right, it’s always scaling. It has to be scaling. I like, no, no, no. Incubate is really hard. And the roots of most of those scaling challenges start in incubate.

So, we really focused on that. How do you design an experiment? How do you do customer validation interviews, just mechanically, what is it that you do, right? And, and understand how to do it well? How do you explore an ecosystem and a tool for mapping out an ecosystem and trying to find out who are the players who might be the blockers in this? And so, the whole 19 chapters are pretty powerful content, but I, I would really zone in on these how to incubate chapters. Mm-hmm. I think they’re quite special.

The other thing I, I really enjoy about the book is that we managed to say something also about the question of how do you influence inside? If you are the corporate explorer with the great insight about customers, and you’ve got a great idea, how do you do this?

And I talk about it in, in the first book and show some great examples of people who are kind of humble and let other people take credit for their ideas and so on. But this time we do two chapters I really think are great.

One chapter is about how do you tell the opportunity story? How do you actually make it so people remember because you don’t have very long. If you happen to be in a, in an elevator with a potential senior sponsor, how are you going to use that two minutes so that they remember? And of course, you need a really vivid image. Or a key fact. And what you don’t do is sell your idea. What you do is you sell the market problem you’re solving. Yes.

Right. You sell the strength of demand that’s out there. And I think we give some practical advice how you do that. But then the other chapter I think is special, which was written by a guy I’ve worked with for many years, Alex Patten, and then one of my colleagues, Kristen Vuknic is on how do you raise the tension?

Because the thing that a corporate explorer faces very often, particularly in budget restrictions, right, is senior managers who know they should carry on funding the innovation. But in the short term, yeah, it’s really inconvenient to do.

You can either just let that slide and do the good corporate game. Yeah. Okay. I understand. I’ll go back to my job in the mail room or whatever. The other alternative is, is you constructively engage them and really put pressure on them to think about the tradeoff they’re making.

We sort of give some tools to how do you put yourself in a situation with senior leaders where you’re going to increase the tension in the conversation so that they have to confront really what they’re doing because they don’t really want to cut the funding either, right. And this, I think, a few stories about people who’ve done that well. And I think that may help.

Brian Ardinger: Well, it’s so interesting. You know, it seems like the success or failure of a lot of corporate innovation efforts relies on developing that culture that supports innovation. And so, what are some of the things that you’ve learned over the years that help our organization develop a culture that supports innovation?

Andy Binns: So, one of the things I’ve been doing lately is I did a research project at the beginning of this year, which I might turn into a later book. We’ll see. Which was with senior leaders, right? So, we interviewed 20 or so CTOs, and then 10 or 15 CEOs and we ask them, so we’ve written this book, Corporate Explorer, and what do you think stands in the way of that?

And really what we’re probing for is how can they, as CEOs, CTOs, give more of the culture that’s needed, which is all about experimentation and risk tolerance and patience to learn, and all of these kinds of things we know. It was quite interesting to get their perspective on some of that. Right.

And what I learned is that from their perspective, those CEOs who weren’t really backing corporate explorers at this point is that they feared losing control more than anything else. They were worried that if they gave too much leeway to these efforts, they would never be able to stop them, and they would not be clear about whether they were really fulfilling a strategic need.

And so, there’s something there where I think corporate explorers need to hear that and think about how can they have a story about the discipline that they can apply in pursuing the opportunities, right?

Because just because you need to be fast moving, experimental, focused on learning, doesn’t mean you have to be ill disciplined. And not offer up decision points and also not be obsessed about your idea. If you portray yourself as somebody who’s obsessed with your idea, no one wants to get themselves in a position where they’re going to have to tell you one day that it’s ugly.

So, this is where, you know, sort of being really driven by evidence, I think, puts you in a position where CEOs, CTOs, others who might back you are going to feel more confident about doing it.

Brian Ardinger: You talk a lot about in the book this idea of customer-led innovation and going back to the customer for those insights and for that evidence and that, can you talk a little bit more about how companies fall down when it comes to customer-led?

And I have my own examples of, you know, companies who think they know their customers. But don’t necessarily apply that into a new field or that, but can you talk a little bit about what customer-led innovation is to you and what you’ve seen around that topic?

Andy Binns: It’s probably the most critical underpinning of the whole philosophy, right? Is that, and your title of your podcast, you know, illustrates this little, the inside out outside in paradox, right.

And there is a very strong view in many firms, particularly technology led firms. I’ve been doing a lot of work in Japan this year and this, this is really strong in Japan, right? That the key thing you should do is focus on developing the technological capabilities and delivering fabulous solutions that customers don’t know they need.

And you know, that can work, but it’s just pretty high risk. Right, right. And that, I think our strong perspective is that you start from a stance of curiosity. The curiosity about, well, how do customers view this? How do they want to do things? And I think that even in quite innovative companies, innovative individuals were the tendency to want to fall into, oh, I already know the answer to this.

I want to get into the product design, or I want to get into the technology design, rather than the obsession that you need around, well, how does the customer really view this? And the thing is, the earlier you do, you investigate it, the more powerful that knowledge is to you later on.

I’m here in California with, it’s a large Japanese firm that, that has invested in a, a sort of a, a new business creation unit. And the CEO of this group has done, you know, two years’ worth of in-depth research into customer problems. And so, she just starts from a position where she understands how consumers think about managing their home, which is the, the sort of space they want to be in. Sort of how you can improve family wellness and family functioning with different tools.

And she just understands this deeply and that that’s a totally different view than the person who’s got a technology and they’re trying to find out where are people who might want it.

Brian Ardinger: Or they go about it in a way where it’s assumed that the person will want this particular solution set and they’ll ask the question, well, wouldn’t it be great if you know this existed? And the customer would say, yes. You build it, you come back, and they don’t buy it. It’s like, well, why not? It’s, well, that was number 700 on my list of problems I wanted to solve as a customer. And so, you mismatch from that perspective as well?

Andy Binns: Yes, and I think one of the challenges I’ve found is that, particularly in technical audiences, but also you see this elsewhere, particularly the technologists where they be, you know, engineers or actuaries, it’s a deep, deep technical. They feel that it’s inappropriate to go to customers without content. The naive question. That would elicit the 699 problems is not where they start. Feels like imbalance.

That’s the piece that, you know, if there’s engineers listening to this is like learn how to just be able to ask questions and that, as I said, there’s a chapter, it’s a great chapter on this in the book as to how you can be that naive question and learning.

And being ready to find out stuff that you didn’t anticipate. And, you know, I’ve recently posted this thing, I wrote an article in on forbes.com, but then I posted in LinkedIn, it’s caused a little controversy because I, I pointed out how BMW have developed this multicolored car. Can change color. Now what customer problem does that solve Brian really?

I can’t find a BMW that’s competitive in electric vehicle range, but I could change its color. Just seems to me to be a failure to really understand or be committed to understanding what your customers care about.

Brian Ardinger: It’s very much innovation theater at that point. It’s more done for the PR or the essence of, of innovation versus solving a core need. That’s right. The other issue I think a lot of companies fall into is the idea they think that this idea of customer discovery, and that is one and done type of event versus trying to build it into your culture of constantly understanding.

What do your customer’s need and how can you, you know, solve those future needs as well? Yeah. Versus like, this is what I have to do. Oh, I did my 10 interviews, now I can go on to building or something like that.

Andy Binns: Yeah. Yeah. We are working with one large American company where they’re developing this new capability and there’s pressure from the sales leader. We need to be done with experimentation and onto execution. I’m like, no. You, you, you’re done with experimentation when you’ve eliminated the risks, right. And you never stop. If you are trying to do something new, you watch how you experiment. The scale of your experiments might change, but that’s your experiment. It never changes because you always need to be learning if you’re doing something new.

For More Information

Brian Ardinger: Constantly exploring. Right. Andy, I, I want to thank you for coming on the, the show again and giving us some more insights into what you’re seeing out there in the world. If people want to find out more about yourself or the book, what’s the best way to do that?

Andy Binns: The corporateexplorer.com remains the URL for both Red Book and Black. But the, the Black Book comes out August 29th. And I would love to get feedback from people. And you can find me on LinkedIn, at Andrew Binns, Binns and, and I’d love to turn to dialogue with people about the book and its content and ideas for the third book.

Brian Ardinger: Yes, we’ll look forward to the trilogy as well. Andy, again, thanks for coming on Inside Outside Innovation, we look forward to speaking to you in the future as well.

Andy Binns: Thanks, Brian.

Brian Ardinger: That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.


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Ep. 316 – Exploring Corp...