Returning to the startup culture mindset: Innovation principles for organisations of all sizes

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If I asked you to think of a company with a startup culture, your mind would likely draw a picture of an office with ping pong tables, communal workspaces, and perhaps even sleep pods. These perks are fun and quirky, but not representative of startup culture's true meaning. After all, startup culture was once synonymous with innovation: a culture that nurtured new ideas into disruptive solutions that transformed industries – such as the likes of Uber and Facebook.

The true meaning of startup culture has huge relevance for today's unstable market, where continuous innovation is critical for organisations that want to thrive and stand the test of time. However, innovating isn't easy, and the risks are high. It's very common for an organisation to spend millions on innovation initiatives which never quite achieve the desired productivity boost. These businesses not only jeopardise their revenue, but may also find themselves lagging behind competitors that have managed to successfully reap the benefits of updating their business models.

With the stakes around innovation higher than ever, organisations must ensure that their investments are strategic. This is where startup culture – in its true meaning – can provide a selection of valuable innovation principles for organisations to follow.

Before looking to apply these innovation principles, it is paramount that the organisation reviews its innovation readiness. For strong chances of success, the business will need to analyse its capabilities, capacity, and create a strategic roadmap for innovation. The roadmap should identify the organisation's strengths, weaknesses, cost capacity, and future goals, while incorporating the below principles.

Prioritise inclusivity and listen to talent at all levels

Hierarchical decision-making stifles new ideas and innovation, often leaving employees feeling disenfranchised. Innovation shouldn't be cordoned off only to an elitist squad within the organization. Instead, the leadership must learn to listen to the ideas of employees at all levels and encourage their creativity, regardless of where they come from in the chain of command. Practices like consensus decision-making, rotating responsibilities, and open allocation for employees at all levels can help improve communication and collaboration across the organisation.

Ultimately, every person in the organisation is a potential source of ideas, but it rests upon the leadership to allow those ideas to flourish across the organisation. Through inclusivity and diversity of thought, innovation is much more likely to thrive.

Find new ways to collaborate

Startups are adept at collaborating with partners to expand their innovation potential. They use open innovation to access a more diverse source of ideas and talent, enabling them to create value they wouldn't necessarily be able to generate by themselves. By contrast, established organisations tend to operate in a siloed manner. They rely solely on internal expertise to drive innovation and fail to realise the benefits to be had from utilising a partner ecosystem.

Fostering an open innovation strategy requires a cultural shift within the organisation. Innovation needs to become a core strategic pillar and cement itself as a mindset within the company – not just an initiative. Through this cultural change, organisations will develop the right tools and processes to successfully manage long-term partnerships that are truly beneficial.

Be lean and agile

Most large organisations rely on the research and development department for innovation, but this approach puts limits on innovation and hinders agility. A startup culture, on the other hand, encourages seamless, cross-functional working that is agile and fast. Eric Ries coined the term ‘The Lean Startup' in his bestselling book that set out principles on how businesses can thrive in a landscape filled with risk. The book outlines how newly created companies go through initial periods of high uncertainty and need to quickly implement solutions to improve their understanding of the external market and customers. However, this approach can be used to manage innovation within large organisations as well.

The concept of The Lean Startup defines a closed-loop, three-step approach to deliver products to customers faster and relies on agility within the organisation. First, a product should be built and tested with real users. Second, this user feedback should be measured. Finally, this feedback should be channelled in the learning process to refine the product, which is going to be tested again with users. This approach to innovation requires integration, collaboration and co-creation at speed, and is a model that organisations of all sizes can apply for innovation.

In conclusion, innovation is inherently about pushing boundaries and taking risks. To foster innovation, business leaders must create a comfort zone where employees feel empowered to break the mould and experiment to try out new ideas. Leadership must learn to tolerate risks and accept a change of direction, if required. Not every innovation project will meet expectations at first, but unexpected results should be viewed as stepping stones to success.