There are things well established and successfull companies can learn from startups. Innovation for one. Being innovative isn’t magic, it’s about creating teams and giving them the right set of tools.
Innovation is the main factor that makes any company not only survive but thrive. It’s innovation that’s taken Apple to where it is now. It’s innovation that let Netflix evolve from a video store chain to a major player in the tv-streaming business, while Blockbuster failed to do so.
“The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries contains some sound principles and not only for startups. First of all, it’s inspiring to read even if you’re not planning to use its methods. It’s good for understanding how to work with minimum viable products. Most of all, it’s helpful for reflecting on how to build innovative teams, no matter the company size.
As a company gains a portfolio of successful products, it sometimes happens that they lean back and tries to enjoy the ride. Always with a watchful eye on their KPI:s of course. Making their process as effective as possible becomes the primary goal in stead of building the next great product. This is dangerous. As the world turns and changes with time, so does the customer needs. Meeting those needs (or even creating them) preferably before the customers even know they have them, requires truly innovative teams. Handling huge amounts of data in real time is one customer need of today, that needs to be met.
It’s not impossible to build innovative, entrepreneurial teams but it may be hard for the simple reason that it goes against traditional business management practices. Getting part of a large company to behave like a startup is a challenge.
The team doesn’t have to be of a special “breed”. The members can be engineers and developers of any kind really. It’s the framework that unleashes innovative ideas. The start can be a small team, with a lot of freedom. The task of management then becomes to foster an entrepreneurial spirit and risk taking. To that end, management needs to implement systems that allow for experimentation.
Allowing teams to take risks is essential. This allows them to test their ideas (pretty much ALL of them) and get the customers take on them. Fast-cycle testing is a good thing, that everyone can do.
Measuring innovation success can be tricky. At Intuit (a case in “The Lean Startup”) they started measuring how many customers were using products that didn’t exist three years ago and the percentage of revenue coming from those products.
Creating a full-on “innovation factory” may take time and be complicated (because of legacy, for instance). But remember, the innovations of today are the market leaders of tomorrow.