Learning from the Startups

We were recently asked by a client if we thought it was possible for a big organization to act like a small startup when it comes to innovation. Being optimistic, we have to believe it is possible, but also being realistic, we recognize that it is a big challenge to pull off.

There is much to be learned from looking at innovation through the lens of a startup, beyond one’s category or even going outside of corporate America. Yet, many big organizations struggle to recognize the lessons. Over the past six months, Spring Design Partners has been immersed in the world of startups and entrepreneurs. We recognized that the startup community is where the momentum is, and believe that there are many lessons that can be learned from how innovation is approached when you are an entrepreneur. At the same time, we are seeing many of our clients yearning for the freedom that entrepreneurs have when developing their ideas. Many large corporations are exploring strategic partnerships with entrepreneurs or funding startups as a way of bringing the “entrepreneurial spirit” into their walls. Despite their best efforts, these types of partnerships seemed doomed to fail or at the least fall short in changing how big brands innovate. And it’s simple because the way an entrepreneur thinks about innovation is very different from the way a big corporation thinks about innovation. There is a huge gap that needs to be traversed to truly connect a startup with an established organization.

The struggles big brands face in trying to innovate is rooted in a titanic culture that is impossible to move. The entrepreneurial mindset that we covet sits miles apart from how big brands think about, develop and evaluate innovation. Embracing failures, iterating ideas, solution based ideas, launch to learn, and taking risks are all qualities that define the entrepreneurial mindset. A process can’t change the way people think. Innovation needs to be adopted as a culture where all employees embrace the belief system and live the mindset.

We believe the innovation gap can be bridged, but it requires a different approach. Embracing an end-result where the best of the startup and the best of the established brand are melded together to create an entirely new mindset and culture is a good goal to take on. The entrepreneurial mindset can fuel creative ideas and new approaches to problem solving. While the established organization can offer insight into going to market and efficiencies in manufacturing and distribution. Both are valued lessons that the collective can benefit from. Successful partnership is about bringing out the best of each other and leveraging shared values.

We believe that big organizations can be more entrepreneurial. But we also believe that it is not about an either-or situation. Finding the bridge, leveraging the best of both worlds and creating something entirely new through a culture of innovation may be the key to innovation in the future.