Innovation through the eyes of a child: Rediscovering Corporate Venture Building.

April 30th, 2024

In the heart of companies striving to stay at the forefront in increasingly competitive and changing markets lies the concept of Corporate Venture Building. This strategy involves corporations not only investing in external startups but also fostering the creation and development of new businesses internally. Acting almost like incubators or accelerators within their structures, these companies commit to nurturing innovative ideas that can transform into new disruptive products or services. This approach allows corporations to inject agility and flexibility into their operations, embracing uncertainty and rapid market changes with a mindset that balances corporate experience with the spirit of a startup.

Central to this dynamic is the internal entrepreneur, a pivotal figure who promotes this new culture of agility and spearheads the creation of new startups alongside the Corporate Venture Builder. These entrepreneurs are not typical corporate managers; they are innovators with a startup mindset, tasked with leading their companies into new territories of opportunity. Their role involves scouting for innovative ideas within the company, cultivating them into viable business models, and driving them from concept to commercialization.

The internal entrepreneur and the Corporate Venture Building team collaborate closely to create an ecosystem that supports rapid experimentation and iteration. This setup allows the company to develop new products and services that not only meet current market demands but also explore untapped markets, thereby creating new revenue streams. The products and services developed through this venture are designed to be scalable and impactful, ensuring they contribute significantly to the company’s growth.

Therefore, Corporate Venture Building demands not only sharp business skills but also a profound personal and organizational transformation. This transformation resembles the stages of human spirit development described by Friedrich Nietzsche: the camel, the lion, and the child. Integrating Nietzsche’s reflections with Pablo Picasso’s artistic visions, we can explore how the child’s perspective is crucial for navigating uncertainty and fostering innovation within corporate structures.

1. The Camel: The foundation of resilience.

The journey in Corporate Venture Building resembles the camel stage, where the intrapreneur takes on the burdens of corporate challenges and market demands. Just as the camel can cross deserts bearing heavy weights, the internal startup must withstand the pressure of corporate expectations while seeking to innovate. This stage is fundamental, as it builds the resilience needed to face upcoming challenges, teaching the entrepreneur the importance of absorbing and learning from their environment before attempting to transform it.

2. The Lion: The necessary rebellion.

The metamorphosis into the lion reflects the critical moment when the internal entrepreneur begins to question and challenge the established norms within the corporation. This phase is the heart of the fight for autonomy and independence, where the startup must find its own voice and space to innovate. The figure of the lion, strong and brave, symbolizes the need to defy the status quo and advocate for new directions and methodologies, often facing internal resistance to defend the potential for disruptive innovation.

3. The Child: The essence of innovation.

Upon reaching the child stage, the entrepreneur and their project are in a state of pure creativity and exploration. Inspired by Picasso’s longing, who famously said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to learn to draw like a child,” and reinforced by the surprising outcomes of the Marshmallow Challenge—where against all odds, small children often outperform highly educated adults, like MBA students. The reason behind this phenomenon is children’s willingness to experiment and adapt, as opposed to adults who plan and execute with a more rigid approach. This phase celebrates the importance of an open and experimental mindset. The child’s perspective, free of prejudice and full of curiosity, allows for an innovative approach to the problem, stimulating creative and disruptive solutions that can elude minds more conditioned by corporate norms and expectations.

4. The importance of the Child's Gaze.

The Marshmallow Challenge highlights how flexibility, experimentation, and the ability to adapt—characteristics inherent to the child’s mindset—are essential in innovation. This exercise reveals that, in the face of uncertainty and complex challenges, a playful and exploratory attitude leads to superior results compared to the more rigid and linear approaches typical of adults.
This capability to tackle uncertainty with an open mind is crucial in Corporate Venture Building. The child’s gaze not only implies greater attention to detail and openness to surprise but also a willingness to unlearn and reconstruct knowledge. In a corporate environment, this translates into the ability to see beyond obvious solutions, explore unexpected paths, and embrace failure as a learning opportunity.

5. Rediscovering the world with wonder: The lesson from Siddhartha.

Herman Hesse, in “Siddhartha,” delves into the search for knowledge and the importance of living with a sense of wonder and curiosity akin to a child’s. Siddhartha learns to listen and observe the world deeply, appreciating the small details and the beauty that surrounds him. This approach, contrary to the linear and objective pursuit of adults, is enlightening for the innovation process. It teaches us that, in pursuing specific goals, we can often overlook innovative opportunities and solutions that are “hidden in plain sight,” waiting to be discovered by those willing to view the world from a different perspective.

Conclusion.

The journey of Corporate Venture Building is a complex process of personal and organizational transformation, anchored in the wisdom of accepting the burdens of the environment (the camel), the courage to challenge the status quo (the lion), and above all, the purity of creativity and innovation (the child). By integrating these stages with Siddhartha’s profound gaze at the world, corporations can foster an environment where passion, experimentation, and a deep appreciation for the discovery process guide the way toward transformative innovations. In this setting, Corporate Venture Building becomes an exciting adventure, where the goal is not just commercial success but also the constant rediscovery of what is possible when we view the world through the eyes of a child.

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