Do Corporate Ventures Exist?
Over the past several weeks (from “Pet Milk Lesson 1” onward), I’ve made a case that a corporate venture begins as an idea, but as soon as people become committed to making that idea a reality, the venture takes on a life of its own. The people involved will work very hard to keep the thing going. In the process, membership may change hands, not once but perpetually, with some new people always coming and some established people always leaving. The corporate venture lives on… or at least the new people coming on board will continue to fight for its survival as long as they can. And if that’s impossible, then the idea—or some refined version of it—may live on in other corporate ventures.
One of the things I find fascinating about this is that corporate ventures don’t actually exist. Oh yes, we can point to the physical structures (office complexes, factories, or whatnot). And we can produce documents certifying that our corporate venture is recognized by the state as a legal entity. But a corporate venture does not have independent existence in the way that buildings or pieces of paper do. Even if there are buildings aplenty, if there are no people in those buildings doing work of some kind, then that corporate venture is no longer a living entity.
I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that a corporate venture is, above all, something social. It’s a bunch of people. They have some shared goals, all emanating from a basic idea or mission. But it’s not the idea or mission that’s fundamental. If nobody shows up to do the work, there is no “corporate venture.” The documents and buildings—and even the mission statements—are merely artifacts of a living culture, a culture created by the people involved.
I repeat: the culture takes on a life of its own. The corporate venture keeps on going even while the personnel constantly changes. But it only keeps on going if there are new people stepping in to make it happen.
In other words, a corporate venture is a social network—a bunch of people interacting meaningfully with each other—even though the membership within that network is perpetually in flux. So here’s the irony: a corporate venture has no existence apart from the people who are involved in it; yet the venture itself survives beyond any of the individuals involved. Why? Precisely because it is a social network.
We live in a society that is composed of layers upon layers of corporate ventures, as I mentioned last week. Those ventures present themselves to us as objective realities—brand name businesses, government agencies, schools, and so on. We can’t just ignore them. They are ever-present realities. Or so they seem. But this is all just shorthand for something so complicated, our minds can’t even begin to grasp it: people coming and going, joining and quitting, grouping around and detaching from certain shared ideas and mission statements. We truly cannot get around the fact that these corporate entities exert their influence over our lives. We “can’t fight city hall,” according to an old saying. But it’s not because those corporate entities exist “out there,” over and against us. It’s because any time we try to fight a corporate entity, we’re butting heads with lots of other people—people who are organized to accomplish their goals.
(To be continued…)