Established companies have a reputation for being too bureaucratic to be innovative. But taking a page from startup culture, some have figured out how to become agile and fast-moving despite their size.
Stodgy. Slow. Bureaucratic. Big companies get a bad rap when it comes to innovation. Itâ€™s easy to focus on the failures: Blockbuster, Borders, Blackberry, and Kodak.
Itâ€™s also easy to become enamored by the latest fast-acting upstarts like Undrip, Tout, and Glyder. For many, â€śinnovationâ€ť has become synonymous with small, agile, and social.
But thereâ€™s a quiet revolution happening in corporate America. Big companies are applying startup strategies and tools to jump-start innovation. Itâ€™s not about pontificating on the innovation process. Itâ€™s about being lean, focused, and maniacally strategic.
- Intuit organizes multi-day â€ślean start-insâ€ť that gather â€śintrapreneursâ€ť together from across the company to teach them how to apply rapid experimentation to create new products, services, and business models.
- Kimberly-Clark promotes one-day â€śexpert acceleration sessionsâ€ť that bring hand-picked outside â€śthought leadersâ€ť face to face with business teams to bust mental models and create game-changing strategies.
- Whirlpool uses a network of innovation mentors (also called i-mentors), who are loaded with innovation tools and guidance to help business teams focused on challenging market â€śorthodoxies.â€ť
Big companies that behave like small startups focus on two things. First, they accelerate the speed of innovation, just like a Silicon Valley incubator. Second, they give internal businesses and teams an outside-in perspective, similar to the type of reality-checking that comes from advisory boards or venture capitalists.
Here are four strategies that anyone can use to start-up, start in, or jump-start their innovation:
- Follow customers home
Intuitâ€™s innovation success is tied to a value for finding and savoring customer surprisesâ€”unexpected insights about customer needs, problems, and desired experiences that canâ€™t be anticipated or pre-defined.
Thatâ€™s why the company does customer â€śfollow-me-homes,â€ť where everyone from CEO Brad Smith to engineers and marketers immerse themselves in the customerâ€™s natural environment to see how things are working (or not) in the real world.
- Tap outside collaborators
Kimberly-Clark knows that insular thinking is the death knell of teams and organizations. Thatâ€™s why they work with their businesses to define specific problems and opportunities that need a jolt of external insight.
They then recruit a small group of â€śthought leadersâ€ť from other companies, universities, startups, or think-tanks to join a collaborative innovation session for a day to lend their expertise. These deep dives deliver strategic and practical insight that would otherwise take months to gather through traditional research.
- Stay small
Big innovations donâ€™t necessarily have to begin by taking big risks or making bet-the-farm investments. Intuit, for example, provides guidance to its â€śintrepreneurialâ€ť teams that they should use the â€ślean startupâ€ť model. Itâ€™s not about waiting around for senior leadership to sponsor and fund the next big idea but rather rapidly testing ideas to identify the things teams can do to have the biggest impact.
- Use the best, invent the rest
Speed and agility come from realizing we donâ€™t have to invent everything ourselvesâ€”either the approach or the innovation itself. When going after breakthroughs, itâ€™s essential to dismiss the â€śnot invented hereâ€ť stigma, as Apple learned the hard way with its foray into mobile maps.
Thereâ€™s no shortage of tools and templates out there. The strategy is to use the bestâ€”like the one-page Business Model Generation tool (from the book with the same name)â€”and then adapt it or combine it with other approaches that work within the specific company context.
Same goes for the innovation itself. The most innovative companies donâ€™t always wait to build a new technology themselvesâ€”they look outside, find what exists, and then go from there.
These big-company strategies arenâ€™t about ivory-tower innovation departments, wacky hats, or Kumbaya creativity.
Theyâ€™re focused on pushing entrepreneurial thinking and practices into the places theyâ€™re needed the mostâ€”inside established businesses. And their explicit objective isnâ€™t about reaching that elusive holy grail of creating a â€śculture of innovationâ€ť (though it can be the by-product of these efforts).
Their strategies combine strategic thinking with the practical tools required for driving forward new products, services, and strategies, all focused first and foremost on leapfrogging to the next big thing.
This article has been authored by Soren Kaplan. Soren Kaplan is the author of two bestselling and award-winning books, Leapfrogging and The Invisible Advantage. He is a former corporate executive, an affiliated professor at USCâ€™s Center for Effective Organizations, and founder of InnovationPoint.
The views expressed by the author are her own and not the views of the publisher.