At a barbeque this weekend, a friend fretted, “How does a large company retain its entrepreneurial spirit?” Part of the leadership team of a fast-growing, $5 billion, public company – historically one of the most innovative in its sector – he painfully understands this dilemma. The agility and speed helped you grow. But your growth requires installing rigid policies and processes which kills your agility and speed. What keeps you big kills what got you there.
A parable tells of a bird that lived on a barren tree in a desert. Too fearful to find a better home, he lived a meager life. One day lightning struck the tree, which caught fire and forced the bird to flee. The bird then reached an oasis filled with water, food, and other birds as company.
Microsoft’s move this week to buy LinkedIn offers a profound lesson most analysts lack the stamina to catch. On the surface it appears to be another potentially brilliant move in the chess game CEO Satya Nadella has been playing since he took the helm of Microsoft in 2014. You can see a transformed Microsoft emerging when you consider the assets they now have in play: a purely cloud-based Office 365, the most popular VoIP solution (Skype), two of the most active online gaming communities (Minecraft and Xbox/Halo), etc. The company looks radically different from the company that used an installed operating system to muscle companies into adopting its work productivity software. Now with LinkedIn, it buys itself a chance to move itself up from last place in the five-way race that now defines tech (Amazon v. Google v. Apple v. Facebook v. Microsoft).
“As the rate of change escalates exponentially, the old ways of organizing and educating, which were designed for efficiency and repetition, are dying.”
– Bill Drayton, Founder, Ashoka: Innovators for the Public
Our ideas make no difference if we cannot get others – our colleagues, partners, bosses, investors – to embrace them. Through the 120 or more interviews I’ve conducted this last year with innovators, I’ve heard over and over again that change is constant and those who have impact are skilled at getting people to embrace this fact.
When it comes to pitching your employer new business ideas, few can claim a track record as impressive as Brendan Ripp’s. Brendan most recently served as group publisher of the Sports Illustrated Group, where he led the development of nearly two dozen brand extensions, including a new film production unit, a college sports vertical, consumer events for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit and most recently the launch of SI Overtime, a branded content studio. He also formed content, media and marketing partnerships with WebMD and Wired, prior to which he served as publisher of Time, Fortune and Money.
In our last blog post, we argued that a “digital transformation” being experienced across nearly every sector is thrusting us into a new era of complexity. Large companies are failing to adapt. They are dying earlier and faster than ever before. And their failure to adapt could come at a profound detriment to society.
An odd thing happened in a client’s boardroom recently. We were listing out the competitors we needed to keep an eye on as part of a scenario planning exercise. We had discussed the usual suspects – long-time direct – and even the more recent entrants – mostly technology start-ups that were now picking up speed. Then someone said, “What really scares me are the competitors we can’t see.”
Corporate venturing models assume that the path to launching a business begins with writing a business case and then seeking funding. But this overlooks perhaps the most important source of capital: your customers.
Confucius, when asked about leadership, likened people to grass and the ruler to wind: whichever way the wind blows so will bend the grass.