Time was when things moved at a manageable pace, and if you had scale, you were hard to beat. Roll forward to today, and for large companies it feels less and less like that. No wonder then that they are worrying more about “digital disruption” and looking for “agile innovation”. Would working with a StartUp offer a solution?
In a recent talk, we discussed the different approaches that retailers have tried to innovate more quickly. If we go back five or six years, a number of the large retailers took a leaf out of the tech industry playbook , and started acquiring smaller companies with bolt-on offerings. The attraction is obvious, by getting out your cheque book, you go from nothing, to up-and-running in no time at all. The problem is corporate tissue rejection. For the people from the smaller company, the new culture is not one they signed up for. And too often, the acquiring company starts to suffocate the other in a “that’s not how we do things around here” way.
Just a few years ago, we saw a different approach emerge, “the Lab”. To avoid the disconnect that comes with an acquisition, companies have tried to build new capabilities organically. Most of these projects take longer to come to fruition, so the jury is out at the moment. But this approach is not challenge free. The issues come both at an execution level and on a cultural level. When executing, the old teams often lack the experience to be able to support newer ways of working. And trying to create a StartUp culture inside a large company is a challenge, mostly for existing employees.
But, if you want to bring in start-up mentality, why not work directly with some? Like the Lab, there are challenges, particularly in matching ways of working. But the cultural problems are much less significant; the start-up and the corporation maintain their own distinct cultures. Nesta, the innovation charity, has produced some great guidance to help both sides stepping into these partnerships:
This could be the agile innovation silver-bullet that large organisations have been looking for.