Is copying startups all it takes to effectively transform and innovate? However appealing the image of a young company with unbridled success may be, the reality is obviously much more complex, but taking a leaf out of their book is certainly the best way to move forward.
Not a week goes by without a major corporation launching a hackathon, incubator or call for projects. And the goal is always the same: to connect the company with startups, as if in the hope that some of their innovation might magically rub off.
Such temptation is only natural. Faced with an ever-changing environment and wanting to capitalise on the opportunities offered by digital technology, traditional companies have understood that adapting is no longer a choice, but a necessity.
A two-fold challenge to transformation
There are two main issues to consider. On one hand, you must plan for disruption. The advent of the collaborative economy carries the risk, for instance, of calling into question property relations in many industries. On the other, you must meet the aspirations of a new generation that no longer wants to consume or work in the same way as its elders.
But, what is a startup? Commonly, the term now denotes a young, bold and often innovative company with huge growth potential whose operations combine flexibility with productivity.
And so with businesses looking for new ways to work with their employees and clients, it’s not surprising that startups are seen as golden examples. Yet, in practice, a bit more pragmatism is required: unlike a startup, an established company is not starting from scratch.
Companies must therefore look to startups for inspiration on how they can rethink their economic model, become more agile and boost their appeal…all while taking into consideration their existing infrastructure.
Progress through collaboration
Large businesses are thus inclined to expand their startup address book in order to learn. Over the last few years, we have seen a rise in learning expeditions to Silicon Valley, where French execs take a week to meet with entrepreneurs and take tours around incubators to immerse themselves in this famous ‘startup spirit’.
But a few days in California or simply nominating a Chief Digital Officer is not enough to transform a business. Successful and durable change involves a long-term strategy about the company’s culture: not only its organisational structure or decision-making processes, but also its tools and technical infrastructure. Observing alone is not enough — you must collaborate, preferably around tangible projects.
There are plenty of levers: partnerships, investments, alliances with incubators or the creation of separate entities are all ways to be in direct contact with startups in an effort to build a mutually beneficial collaboration. Such initiatives must be supported from within, including measures that promote intrapreneurship and an appetite for experimentation and risk-taking.
Transformation is not a sudden shift towards an idyllic ‘startup mode’ that will solve all your issues. It’s a process of cultural integration through which you must progressively increase your efforts, build more bridges and broaden your contacts.