5 reasons established
companies should behave like
startups
Sebastian Hefel — 16 February 2017
culture

Introducing good new software into an established company can be a wonderful thing — if done right, the product can fire up the team, improve the workflow and breathe new life into the entire organisation — but there is more. In my experience, real company growth happens at the learning curve, in other words, there is value that’s created and shared amongst cross-functional teams as the product is being built. This is why we always invite stakeholders and end users to join the process and feel as if they are part of a brand new startup. It not only delivers better outcomes, but rejuvenates business values in the process. These are five reasons we stick to our guns on this one.

 

1. Behaving like a startup allows a team to discover strengths it did not know it had

The moment an established context of a team is changed, new strengths will reveal themselves. In other words, if top-down management styles are removed from the mix and a level playing field is introduced, team members who could otherwise be on the sidelines have the opportunity to step forward and think laterally. This is because the startup mindset is about free thinking, there is no wrong answer. This is something people crave in their day to day — the ability to brainstorm and discuss without being judged. A blank slate and a fresh mindset provides a company with a period during which they can step out of their workflow and try out new skills like sketching, public speaking, prototyping and design.

 

2. It's OK to experiment and fail, just like the old days

The number one rule of agile design (often adopted by startups) is fail fast. The faster you fail, the faster you learn, therefore the faster you are building the right thing. It is great to know that you can do that, and that you will not be penalised for the wrong outcome. In fact, mistakes are valued in startup. They are written down in big letters and stuck to the wall for everyone to see. Things to avoid are as important as defined objectives. When we know what to steer away from, we are automatically heading into a general right direction. Established companies need this too. Having been around for 50 years does not entitle a business to become a perfectionist.

 

3. Other areas of the business are looked at in a new light

When the context in which work is done has changed, like relaxed rules, remote working, encouraged experimentation and encouraging cross-department collaboration, old problems start to be perceived more optimistically. This is because a fresh mindset gives way to a new, more positive form of thinking. Companies adopting agile design and other creativity techniques often realise that difficult problems are difficult because they are perceived to be as such, and because they have an internal belief that a solution cannot be found. As Einstein puts it, thinking creates problems that the same kind of thinking will not solve. Hence why we encourage our clients to behave like startups. During, but ideally even after the software is launched.

 

4. Introduction of cross-functional teams

Startups are made from a rich mix of individuals who work closely together: People who work in design, development, testing, marketing, video, audio, animation, finance, accounting, PR etc. Each of these individuals have their own point of views, their unique perspectives and backgrounds that will skew their opinions one way or the other. Decisions are often taken by one or two people in a team, but it is essential that all others are on the same page. The good news is that startup techniques have developed team exercises to clarify ideas and visions for every team member, so that all members are pulling towards the same goal. This is a healthy approach towards problem solving and one which companies can benefit from.

 

5. It cultivates a mindset of measuring and managing

Sometimes the smallest tweaks yield the biggest return. Knowing what works and what doesn’t by slowly layering processes and testing each combination separately is the mantra of any successful startup. So why not apply this thinking within big teams? — If the workflow feels it could be better or the results simply aren’t happening quite as fast as you’d hoped they would, small important tweaks will make the difference. The trick here is to measure the inputs and outputs. Without data it is hard to take corrective action in time, something good startups do very well. 

Today we operate from a remarkably privileged point of view. We have the benefit of hindsight and a access to the collective wisdom of many companies and industries that have struggled through challenges without any assistance. This information, coupled with countless useful methodologies and techniques is enough to jump-start any enterprise from a sluggish state into one that demands the attention of the market.