A May 2016 survey of 170 large companies with revenues greater than $1 billion found that 82.4 percent have implemented lean startup methodologies to some extent. Another 9.4 percent of companies are exploring implementing programs.
The overwhelming desire of large organizations to be “more startup like" is unsurprising. The past decade has proven that a company can go from an idea to a unicorn in a matter of months, leveling the playing field between decades-long industry power players and newcomers. The good news for large corporations is that by thinking and acting more like a startup, established companies can reap many of the same rewards as their newer, more nimble counterparts.
The Biggest Difference Between Corporates and Startups: Systems
Although there are many differences between startups and established companies, the biggest one comes down to systems. Startups, in their most basic definition, lack virtually all infrastructure, both human and machine. While much of the framework of Corporate America revolves around following existing systems (managerial systems, workflow systems, technology systems, and sometimes dozens more) that have been built over years or decades , entrepreneurs are forced to begin from the ground up, building systems as they go. Startups simply don't have the luxury of “doing things the way we've always done them," because they're working with a blank slate. Things haven't been done before, period. The lean startup methodology of “build, measure, learn" is the only option.
As a result, startups are almost always more innovative and more nimble than their corporate counterparts.
The One Question That Disrupts the Internal Status Quo
While mistakes in a small number of industries can be catastrophic (see: Theranos), the majority of disciplines can adhere to the “fail fast" method with little to no potential downside. By giving employees permission to try new things—even if the results end in failure—companies expand the opportunity for innovation.
The good news is that corporate managers can teach employees to become more entrepreneurial by asking one question: "Why?" Although it's a simple question, it can be a difficult mindset to adopt — especially for managers whose careers have been built by following systems, structure, and order. However, with practice, the art of asking “Why?" can help even the world's most established companies be more startup like in their operations.
Asking “Why?" means questioning systems and processes on a regular basis. With each system or process, ask: “Why is this being done this way? Is this process necessary? Am I saving more time than it's taking to perform this action? How can it be improved to be more efficient in the future?"
This seemingly-simple step helps ensure that systems don't become outdated, and that outdated systems don't remain the norm because “this is how we've always done things."
Entrepreneurs don't look for a way that works; they look for the best way. That's why no existing process is safe if there's a faster, better or more efficient option to be found. And there's always a better way out there — it just has to be uncovered.
By sharing a “Why?" mentality with managers, even the largest enterprise can create a more entrepreneurial culture with cutting-edge operational systems.
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