Let me make one thing clear. I love entrepreneurs. I admire their creativity, ingenuity, and perseverance. I have stood in their shoes as we built out Innosight's core business and explored new geographies and offerings. I have also funded many entrepreneurs through our company's venture investment arm.
I am writing today, however, to praise corporate innovation.
Right now start-ups have undeniable sex appeal. If you ask twenty-somethings where they could go to have an impact, they will tell you a start-up. They have read the stories of Andrew Mason from Groupon and Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook, peers who have created billions of dollars in value. Having a movie made about your start-up? Sexy. Joining a faceless corporation manned by drones? Not so sexy.
But let's deal with the reality of entrepreneurship. Sure, there are entrepreneurs like Mason or Zuckerberg who win big. But the vast majority of new businesses fail. Further, while some start-ups legitimately have the potential to change the world, many more are fast followers looking for a "quick flip." That may be sure motivation for the financially oriented but it sure sounds like "selling out" to me.
Corporate innovation? I imagine most teenagers don't dream of working on innovation inside a big company. We need to change this. We need to make corporate innovation a purpose-driven activity.
There are big problems in the world today. Health care is unaffordable. Many people live in abject poverty and don't get enough to eat. Clean water is a challenge in many parts of the world. The infrastructure in rich countries is decaying. Natural disasters seem to strike with increased frequency.
Who is going to solve these problems? Perhaps the quiet corporate innovator who has the resources — distribution, patents, scientists, regulatory acumen, brand awareness — that an entrepreneur has to fight for years to secure.
Ask yourself, Who really impacts the cost of health care in the United States? Sure, Barack Obama and Congress can do something about it. Real health care reform, however, will come in the form of innovations launched by companies like Walgreens, Johnson & Johnson, and Aetna, companies that are big enough to materially impact the health care market.
Corporate innovators have an incredible ability to affect change in a positive way. Doing so isn't charity — it's good business. The right combination of words and actions could make corporation innovation the most sought after job for anyone looking to have impact on the world.
Corporate innovators, embrace the deeply motivating purpose behind your work. You have an incredibly cool job. Don't be shy about telling people about it.