An exploration of the question: can large corporations really act like start-ups or get close to that? This hack was written as one of the requirements to obtain the Innovation Mentor Certification at CIMp. The CIMp program is part of iVia, The Way of InnovationTM, founded by The University of Notre Dame, Whirlpool Corporation, and Beacon Health Systems. Learn more at http://innovationcertification.nd.edu/.
A lot of corporate players are changing their organizations in order to embrace innovation. Their senior management teams all heard the quote of Eric Ries: “The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else” and took it seriously. Corporations started to introduce agile ways of working, making sure they were building ecosystems so they could get a better outside in perspective and be closer to their customers. And of course they introduced innovation frameworks and methodologies, usually based on Lean Startup and Design Thinking, so they could really get started. But then issues often occurred because of the management systems and the orthodoxies that had been in play for a long time. Here change is needed in order to really embrace innovation and create organizational readiness. Buzz words like corporate innovation and intrapreneurship were born. How often do you as an individual working in the innovation space go to an innovation conference where a lot of focus is on topics like creating an innovation friendly culture, change of management style and breaking barriers?
And then an interesting question comes to mind: are startups thinking about or even spending time on these topics as well?
I have interacted and collaborated with startups, mentored them and know quite a few personally by now. Based on that my take on this would be: they don’t!
Why not? My assumption: they had a completely different starting point, they have different incentives driving them and most importantly: they don’t have the “luxury” to be busy with internal politics because they need to focus on their customers and business, there daily bread depends on that.
So let’s assume for a moment my assumption is right…what can a corporation do to become more like a startup? Following are a few suggestions, ideas and personal experiences:
• Don’t look at startups as enemies disrupting your business but as friends and serious partners;
• Working in a large corporation we have to expand our minds and ask ourselves the question: how can we really learn from startups and how can we feed that learning back into our organization;
- Looking for startups to collaborate with is not (only) focused on: can we buy them or be their launching customer, but also on: what can we learn from them;
- So if your challenges are agility, building successful teams, killing politics, creativity, entrepreneurship, to mention just a few that are in play for most large corporations, look for startups that you can learn from to improve;
• Creating a systematic approach in looking for startups you can learn from and collaborate with helps you focus;
- Define themes/areas of interest in which you are looking for startups;
- Define what the collaboration with a specific startup could look like;
• Providing a space where your corporate teams work side by side with startup teams can provide huge learning opportunities;
- Create an accelerator where you can host a mix of early stage startups and internal teams. My experience: the startups are happy with the office space and the mentoring they receive, the internal teams learn continuously and start developing the mindset we are looking for;
- Truly collaborate with those startups as partners, make sure there is mutual respect and make sure they can learn from you as well;
- When your corporate teams work side by side with startup teams, have demo days together, where all teams pitch their progress and learnings to each other;
• Mentoring startups and scaling this within your company, also outside your innovation team, will provide a lot of insights both personally and on an organizational level.
A corporation can definitely learn from startups. One with the right mindset in place and an approach that is genuinely based on outside-in learning, can potentially get close to acting like a startup. To the question if a corporation can truly and fully act like a startup I believe there are still some challenges and topics to reflect on:
If you work in a corporation your pay check comes in every month. Will an employee of a corporation ever feel the same pain a startup feels because his daily bread depends on his startup business? Maybe the orthodoxies around the way people working for a corporation get paid, the concept of a monthly salary, should be changed more fundamentally to achieve the same mindset. What if your daily bread would be for 100% directly linked to the internal startup in a corporation that you are working for. Also, the time that people were mainly driven by the salary they received is far from over. Maybe the answers lie more in a fundamental shift in how people are rewarded when sticking out their neck, and I don’t mean just a tap on the shoulder. Crazy ideas or food for thought? I am very much interested to hear your opinions. I personally don’t know the answer, I am one of those people conveniently getting a monthly pay check… maybe it’s time to start experimenting on this.