Among the many myths that corporate types have about startups (whether standalone or of the corporate variety) is that there is some kind of alchemy involved. Sort of “Steve Jobs arrives on a clamshell and the world is changed forever!” They think growing new businesses requires some instinctive DNA that founders are born with and that other mere mortals will never possess.
Understanding investor psychology can be baffling and frustrating for the managers of publicly traded corporations. For instance, despite what many would regard as a stellar track record of proven performance, CEO Mark Fields was fired at Ford. Apparently, the company’s success at making vehicles like its 150 truck the ride of choice for wealthy Americans (even besting longstanding luxury brands such as BMW and Audi) combined with Field’s determination not to be left behind by potential disruptions in the mobility business just weren’t enough.
A study by one of my former professors at London Business School found that “Only 55% of the middle managers we have surveyed can name even one of their company’s top five priorities.”
My wife is from New Orleans, so when we recently got a chance to see the original, we had to stop.
We were driving through France with our kids, on a four-day tour from my family reunion in Germany to our AirBNB in Barcelona, when we realized we’d pass through the “original New Orleans”: Orleans. This is the first town that Joan of Arc helped free from an English siege during the Hundred Years’ War, when England was taking over large swaths of France.
If you are thinking this is a motivation piece about the power of ambitious thinking, it’s not. What I’m going to lay out here has nothing to do with psychology or inspiration. This is basic math. A concept so simple, you will grow frustrated that your company doesn’t embrace it. My 11-year-old gets it. But the $50b company I worked with yesterday doesn’t.
People often ask me how to incentivize entrepreneurial behavior from within an established organization. My first answer is “stop killing it.” Leaders put so many barriers and shut doors in front of would-be internal entrepreneurs that just lifting a few barriers or leaving a few doors ajar would on their own create a momentous acceleration in their flow of innovation.
The DMV completely disrupted my plans today. I walked in, notebook and laptop under arm, expecting to spend an hour writing while waiting. But after just 15 minutes I was done!
For over a decade now, corporations have been seeking to understand how to better prepare themselves against the onslaught of technology firms spreading their way into nearly every sector, from banking to real estate to retail. They created incubation groups, acquired startups, sought to create a “culture of innovation.”
Strategy lasts. Derived from the title of ancient Greek government officials charged with rallying resources to fuel military campaigns, refined in China, then ported back to the West by Napoleon, the science or art of coming together to agree on a goal, and the method to achieve it, is an activity that like farming or governing or writing poetry distinguishes human from animal.
Last Wednesday, in a suburban New Jersey warehouse converted into conference space and a cooking show set, I joined 80 managers assembled to discuss their company’s strategy. We had helped design the two-day experience and were at the point in the flow of the off-site when we hoped we would hear some new, breakthrough insights.