Even if they have reasonably good strategies and an intent to commit investment, many medium and large conventional corporations in traditional industries still struggle to advance their digital business capabilities. Often the issue is about learning to take risks in a different way and shifting to a more exploratory culture. Traditional companies are organisational machines built and perfected for safely and reliably delivering modest growth and incremental innovation. The trouble is, that very strength is also what leaves them open to disruption. So the old dog really does need to learn new tricks. But how?
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One great way to do it, is to work with and learn from startups. It’s not just that the individual startups may have great ideas and create future options for your business. The act of working with and alongside them will brush off on your corporate culture. Senior and middle management who have been working in a steady-state, high-control, traditional corporate environment for decades, will have their eyes opened. From the zeal of a real mission, to minimum viable product, to design thinking … ideas and patterns of thought will brush off. That can be the catalyst needed to start changing your culture more deeply.
I recently had the privilege of seeing such a corporate awakening in action, when I was invited so speak at a ‘hackathon‘ for leaders of the Italian part of the very large and historic international insurance company Generali. The company chose to work with a major Italian incubator called H-farm, that at any one time is helping hundreds of startups, with some them growing to be substantial companies. It was very interesting to see first-hand, managers and leaders from corporate departments such as IT and HR, all wearing hoodies and working through right through the night on new ideas at the interface between insurance and the digital world.
H-Farm itself is an interesting incubator in the way it works regularly with larger corporations from Illy coffee to Whirlpool appliances. Apparently, Luxottica’s ongoing relationship with Google Glass, was forged at H-Farm. This impressive incubator is but one of the many members of the global accelerator network – an organisation that helps them collaborate and learn from each other. There are a great many incubators around the world now, many of them with over a decade of experience. There’s likely to be one in a city near you. Helping them, by reaching out to collaborate on a corporate culture reboot exercise is likely to help both parties. What do you have to lose? Nothing really – except some initial mild embarrassment at shedding your corporate blinders.. and spending a modest budget outlay you would have easily wasted on a conventional piece of dull consulting work that was destined for a dusty shelf anyway.
Working with startups is a great way to start changing your culture, to take Digital to the Core of your company. It’s the subject of our new book, that’s available from in all the usual formats and from all the usual outlets.