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Innovation? Corporate startuppers take care of it


Tracking down innovative ideas within the big company , which would otherwise end up forgotten in the bottom drawer but that are made possible with digital means. This  is one of the missions of the Chief Digital Officer

“What do you do?”. “I’m becoming a sort of corporate startupper”. This quick repartee took place while I was recently attending a meeting.  I was the one who asked the question, the answer came from a manager of a large ICT company who a few weeks ago, without making much noise – that’s why I don’t want to mention his name and create problems – received a new assignment: after having been a process and project manager, he now was to track down innovative ideas within his company, which were to be developed with digital means.  The more he went on explaining his new job – while I listened enthusiastically – the more I realised that this job description largely matched the profile of the profession that I’m fixed on: the Chief digital officer.


Tracking down startups within one’s company might appear like  a contradiction. Usually large firms look outside for 2.0 companies they can sponsor, with which a partnership can be established or that might be included in the firm’s set up to facilitate their growth.  There are various good economic and organisational reasons for this philosophy, but my friend explained that “corporate startuppers are the natural consequence of the digital revolution”, giving very simple reasons:

  • within many companies, innovative small-to-large ideas emerge from everyday work;
  • several of these ideas (even if they are considered good and interesting) are usually put aside merely because they would require action to be taken, energy and time that would have to be taken away from daily work;
  • digital (in its broadest meaning) often helps reduce to the minimum the need for this extra use of resources;
  • someone – a sort of “inside desk” –  must catalyse these ideas in order to see how they can be developed with digital means, before they are forgotten in the bottom drawer.

How many good ideas end up in the bottom drawer? If you think about it, many do. Usually laziness is the reason why they aren’t carried out, but often it’s because of a quick (and mistaken) calculation of all the problems that could be found along the way. The idea of  a corporate startupper –  which sounded new to me, but maybe someone knows of examples that have already been launched, in that case please let me know – responds not only to cultural needs, but also to other exigencies regarding management and processes.

Nowadays, digital abolishes many supposed obstacles, or at least it greatly reduces their importance (think of the advantages of the cloud and specifically of the new 3D printing property of Photoshop CC). To ignore this aspect – here is the cultural factor – might mean that ideas could be abandoned because they seem complicated to implement, while they are not.

You don’t need a whole host of managers, just one or a few, who are at the service of the entire company. A sort of internal digital mentorship that can help to convert innovative ideas into startups, combining Albert Hirschman’s “hiding hand” approach and the realism that comes from knowing the company and its strategic objectives.

The Chief digital officer is a corporate startupper because his task consists precisely in promoting and transferring corporate business into the age of 2.0. Not only the opportunities, possibilities, issues and advantages regarding an activity, but also processes and models look different with the digital approach. In 2000, a hit song went: “Depende, de qué depende, de según como se mire todo depende”. That’s just it! You have an innovative idea? Can it be carried out? It all depends on how you look at it.


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