A little while ago I wrote about the great balancing act that exists for large corporations as they try to innovate, the balancing act between executing their existing business model and searching for new business models. This was then followed by some thoughts on the battle to sustain, rather than attain product-market fit within a corporation.
These two conundrums of corporate innovation are closely related, and although there are various tactics to combat this, I’d never given thought to the notion of the deliberate appointment of a leader that would drive innovation and entrepreneurial activity at the level of the CEO.
I then came across this video from CxOTalk, which featured Alexander Osterwalder, creator of the business model canvas (a key component of The Lean Startup) and value proposition canvas, co-author of The Business Model Generation, serial entrepreneur as well as academic and corporate consultant. To round that out (as if it wasn’t impressive enough) Osterwlader’s Twitter bio simply states, “Won’t rest until senior executives and entrepreneurs operate like surgeons!”
What he means is this; surgeons are methodical, they train for over a decade, and they have every tool they could possibly need to do their job effectively.
Although, in many ways he already has, Osterwalder wants to equip corporate leaders and entrepreneurs with the types of strategic and pragmatic tools they require to be successful in the 21st century.
Osterwalder’s ideals and accomplishments aside, his interview and the video above catalysed a spark of imagination and got me thinking a lot more about a new role that could one day exist in large enterprises, the role of the Chief Corporate Entrepreneur.
This is quite a profound idea.
We know that numerous conundrums of corporate innovation exist, and atop that list is the conundrum of business model execution versus business model exploration, and the balancing act one must play in order to combat this.
For the most part, this conundrum falls on the decision making of the CEO. However, the primary focus of the CEO is currently to act as the Chief Execution Officer. She or he is tasked with executing a known business model, and will optimise people and processes for profits and vast scale around that very execution.
This is and will always be core to enterprise.
However, understanding that product-market fit is a temporary state, and also understanding that a business model is never complete, it’s become clear that the role of corporate innovation or business model exploration must become a key activity.
The Chief Corporate Entrepreneur would drive entrepreneurial activity, innovation exploration and innovation execution within the business. They would explore and validate strategic and customer-facing competitive advantages, deliver new and uniquely useful products and drive various ancillary revenue streams to the core business.
But here’s where the idea get’s even crazier; they would sit alongside the CEO at the top of the food chain.
Is this a potential reality?
I definitely think so, although, I may not be quite as bullish on the timeframe as Osterwalder.
I agree that the corporate landscape is shifting, dramatically, and a component of this change will likely involve adapting certain elements of the corporate structure. This almost goes without saying.
However, my recent introduction to the role of the Chief Corporate Entrepreneur has opened my eyes to a potential reality that at least to me, makes a lot of sense.
Every large corporation wants to innovate, and perhaps this may form a big part of how they will achieve that. Only time will tell.