Next Year You Will Need to Experiment Like a Startup

If you have been feeling the pace of change accelerating, 2018 will demand an even faster pace. Companies that thrive will have to learn to experiment like a startup.

Startups are known for being quick and nimble in the face of rapid change. Their small size and fast-paced culture allow them to acknowledge when something isn’t working and change direction accordingly without missing a beat.

It’s a culture most large, established companies can only dream of maintaining once they grow beyond their startup status. By the time an organization scales enough to have the resources it needs to push innovative ideas to market, it has typically lost the flexibility and speed it once had and is no longer an ideal space for incubating and encouraging true innovation.

Until recently, most innovations were web-based and did not require a large team or significant funding, and so small startups could afford to take them on. But many of the innovations happening today are rooted in the physical world (think self-driving cars, robots, and checkout-free brick-and-mortar stores) and require much bigger investments – money that startups simply don’t have.

It seems, then, that to successfully innovate in today’s world, companies must figure out how to be big AND fast, how to combine the entrepreneurial mentality of a startup with the deep pockets of a large organization.

While companies like Google and Apple have struggled with this approach, Amazon has been excelling at it.

With loads of successful innovations under its belt (e.g., Alexa, eBooks, Amazon Drive) and many still in the works (e.g., Amazon Go), Amazon has figured out the secret to innovating differently.

Here are four things that Amazon is doing differently to push innovative ideas through a large, established organization.

Embracing failure

Under the leadership of CEO Jeff Bezos, Amazon has developed a culture that welcomes experimentation and understands that failure is part of the deal.

“If you want to be inventive, you have to experiment a lot, which means you will fail a lot,” said Bezos.

By not just tolerating failure but accepting it as an inevitable part of the road to success, Amazon has created an environment in which people are not afraid to speak up when inspiration strikes.

“I know examples where a random Amazon engineer mentions ‘Hey I read about an idea in a blog post, we should do that,’” said startup expert and author Eric Ries. “The next thing he knows, the engineer is being asked to pitch it to the executive committee. Jeff Bezos decides on the spot.”

Experimenting small

At most large companies, when an innovative idea is proposed and then endorsed by the people in charge, it suddenly becomes the sole focus of the company. They throw time, money and talent at the idea until it either thrives or fails. That’s a great plan of attack if the idea thrives – but what if it fails? Think of how much risk that company has taken on.

Amazon takes a different approach. When an idea is brought to the table, Amazon creates a small team to work the idea and determine if it’s feasible. According to Ries, the team gets limited resources and is tasked with a clear objective. If the team is successful, it is allowed to expand.

Launching early

Amazon avoids spending a lot of time on internal testing. Once an idea is shown to have promise, Amazon launches it externally so paying customers can try it out as quickly as possible.

This provides Amazon with invaluable “real world” feedback and prevents them from potentially spending years developing something internally that would only fail when launched to the public.

Encouraging independence

Bezos encourages teams to work independently of each other, using whatever processes or technologies they need to bring the idea to life. There are no enforced standards they must conform to, or Amazon-specific tools or technologies they must embrace.

This removal of limitations allows Amazon’s innovators to essentially do whatever they need to make their ideas successful.

Are you ready to experiment like a startup?

As the innovation landscape changes from web-based to physical, large companies have an opportunity to play a much bigger role in bringing innovative ideas to life.

Are you doing what it takes to successfully innovate in today’s world?

  1. Embrace failure. It’s a big and very necessary part of success.
  2. Experiment small. Determine if an idea is worth pursuing before throwing all your resources at it.
  3. Launch early. Get real-world feedback from your audience. Let them play a part in determining if your idea will be successful.
  4. Encourage independence. Don’t squelch innovation by imparting too many standards and rules on your teams.
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