If you understand them, you can help any size company succeed.
In my last article, I spoke about a growing and costly language gap between big businesses and startups and why bridging it is critical.
The reason is simple. Large and small businesses need each other. Startups need large businesses because they have the systems, brand awareness, distribution and expertise to turn the seeds of ideas into flourishing gardens of possibility.
Established businesses need entrepreneurs because they bring the objectivity, imagination and fearlessness required to drive new products, services and business models into the hands of impatient consumers and customers—fast.
When these two types of businesses work together, great things happen.
But despite the fact that mentoring, venturing, incubating partnerships and acquiring seem to be happening with greater and greater frequency, things are not going well.
One big reason is that each group responds differently to classic business situations. Let’s talk about the three words we used last time and show how you can create common ground to create the outcomes you want.
For senior executives, risk means losing your job; for entrepreneurs, it means losing the ability to buy food. So faced with risk, entrepreneurs step on the gas because they are hungry for immediate sales and market feedback. They will use rapid prototyping as a way to get feedback as fast as humanly possible. Meanwhile, their counterparts at large companies pump the brakes and proceed with caution, often keeping ideas secret until they are much further along in the process.
One solution for executives at large companies: outsource your riskiest projects. The more disruptive the concept the farther away it should be from your core business. You successfully and intentionally built an ecosystem designed to mitigate risk. You literally have antibodies in your organization that are there to stop the very thing your entrepreneurial friend has been asked to do: disrupt your company or industry. For disruptive ideas to flourish, they must be quietly nourished far away from the experts in your organization who were hired to do a different job.
Entrepreneurs love speed. They’ll take whatever shortcuts are available to cut costs, cut time and cut bureaucracy. To them, going slow means burning cash and watching whatever small lead they have on their competition fade away. Most seasoned executives have learned that co-creation means they have less reputational capital in play. So they will work with their customers, boards, bosses and peers to get buy-in by as many people as possible. Only then will they launch. Unfortunately, this usually results in a vanilla version of an idea that fails to get the attention of the market. If an idea offends nobody, by definition, it isn’t disruptive. One solution for executives at large firms: empower a small team with an audacious timeline. From our experience, small teams that are challenged with timelines that are one-third of what you think it should take to get a project through your corporate sausage machine work best. Managing executives should meet with the team regularly but be disciplined in the questions they ask. For example, they must center their questions on whether the team is being disruptive enough and what financial support the team needs to meet the audacious goals.
For a startup, success means disrupting the status quo in a way that reduces time, cost and red tape while improving the experience of the customer and making a couple of dollars in the process.
For those who work at large firms, success must also include a way to fuel the existing economic engine, distribution model and sales structure while somehow introducing something novel but inoffensive.
One solution for executives at large companies: use a portfolio strategy to help prioritize and institutionalize innovation. A simple portfolio strategy will help your core team focus on incremental ideas and give the disruptors some space to take some chances.
The future is coming faster and faster. The leaders at both large and small companies who understand how to best leverage the unique skills of their peers will be the biggest winners.