Rumor has it, corporates need startups to stay competitive and innovative. That’s not necessarily true – it may just take a mandate to explore and tinker.
Most businesses start out small and new – just like a so called startup. They focus on serving a single industry or tackle a specific issue. By focusing on a particular area, they gain domain knowledge and potentially a competitive edge. This advantage then gets solidified by setting up an organizational structure best suited to exploit a given subject efficiently. While focus is necessary to accumulate knowledge, a natural downside is that compromises are made about everything outside that scope.
What if your customer’s focus shifts, before your business scope does?
We’ve seen cases where fixed focus has become a dangerous business strategy. Scandinavian mobile phone giants have vanished, brick and mortar stores became rendered obsolete through online retail and we may soon get to witness the end of combustion engines with unprecedented effects on our industry landscape. Policies may shape customer demand just as much, as the continuous desire to obtain faster, better and cheaper solutions to a given problem does.
Talking to your customers will not be enough to figure out which route to take.
New technologies are out there to serve customers accordingly. However, they usually arise long before customers would ask for them, or before they show up on the corporate radar. This holds especially true if innovations come from new domains such as artificial intelligence or vertical farming.
Furthermore, such a focus would cause you favor talking to existing customers only. However, what if new radical solutions arise on the margin and grow at a rapid pace? Could they become a profitable asset? There are simply too many risks involved in saying „No, let’s keep on focusing“. There is too many opportunities lost by following a given path and trajectory only.
So how do you move from having a narrow scope of exploitation, towards scanning a wide gulf of opportunities? By buying an interesting piece of technology or partnering with a startup?
Partnering with startups won’t treat the root-cause of your problems.
Networking and tech-scouting may often take a very random spray-and-pray approach to solving your speed and innovation dilemma. Neither does it treat your trouble at its root-cause.
Your company already has all the experts and knowledge it takes to explore new paths – It was a startup once. Remove corporate focus and top-down priorization, and within 3-6 months, there’s even a chance they could master artificial intelligence up to a point you would have deemed impossible.
Start with a pilot. Carve away the organizational structure and let an exploratory team reassemble itself. Whatever they learn, might be transferred or scaled. There will be trial and error. After all, It’s not about installing a given technology, its about setting up processes and environments that allow for exploration and acceleration. New paths cannot always be planned.