Why large companies does not lead Innovation?

Why it’s always an unknown start-ups linked to every disruptive innovation in recent times and not large corporates. This malaise could be traced centuries back.

“Why large companies does not lead Innovation” may not be appropriate since they do innovate but it’s incremental. Innovations from their stable is like Version2, 3 and so on. Their innovations are rarely disruptive or game changer except in few cases. And this seems to inflict every company who starts with a Big Bang Innovation but as it becomes large, forget to how to be creative again. It was not established large IBM but off the block Microsoft to bring the best Personal computer operating system but then it was not large Microsoft but relatively start-up Apple, which got it right with mobile operating system. There are umpteen such examples where start-ups have beaten large companies in bringing about disruptive changes in their Industry.

It should not be the case. Innovation = Talent + Resources and who could beat these fortune 500 companies in hiring the best talent from campuses or managing all the resources needed. So what’s going wrong?

I just finished reading Simon Singh brilliant book on origin of Universe; Big Bang. It was surprising to note that even innovators / Scientists / astronomers were behaving like large corporates of todays. It takes ages even to acknowledge new Idea from a budding scientist by the renowned names thereby wasting precious human time and endeavour to move forward. Copernicus, first mooted the Idea of Sun and not Earth being at the centre of Solar System in 1514 but it took more than 300 years for the scientific community to accept this Idea. Almost 200 years after Galileo made observation to support Copernicus. This was not only because of religion (Church being against the change) but also due to well-known and reputed names in the field of astronomy resisting the new Idea. This has not changed in 20th century as well. It took almost 40 years for Einstein to be convinced that there is no need for a cosmological constant in his general theory of relativity as Universe is expanding. He out-rightly dismissed this new Idea from new kids and his dismissal means instant death to the new way of thinking about origin of Universe. Though later this was proved right and Einstein himself acknowledged that cosmological constant was the ugliest idea and he was never comfortable with it. Simon Singh has summarised this beautifully in his book;

The shift from one paradigm to another could happen only once the new paradigm had been fully discredited. The speed of the transition depends on numerous factors, including the weight of evidence in favour of the new paradigm and the extent to which old guard resists the change. Older Scientists, having invested so much time and effort in old paradigm, are generally the last to accept the change, whereas younger scientists are generally more adventures and open minded. The paradigm shift might therefore be completed only when the older generations have retired from scientific life and the younger generation has become the new establishment.

This is so true for an established large corporates as well. The do recruit the best talent from younger generation but hierarchy on the top always comes from older generation (more so now as average life span has increased and retiring age is moving north). This Older generation has tasted success albeit a long time back by doing things in a certain way. It’s impossible for them to understand why same way of doing things will not bring in more success. They only promote those new ideas / innovation which is only incremental, does not try to make paradigm shift and is predictable. Imagine how a 70 year old head of any large conglomerate would have reacted in late 1990s if one of his young recruit has presented a social networking Idea like Facebook. He will be lost to understand why people need to connect on Internet, they could probably connect over a dinner at Restaurant and therefore opening a restaurant is probably better business for him.

So how to make that leap from slow moving behemoth to nimble start-up. You can’t. But there is way out and some of them have already started doing. Remember, these behemoth has the best talent and resources. They could not only make disruptive changes but also mobilise resources to quickly get the acceptance.

First, Instead of trying innovation in the existing and tired corporation, support a budding start-up like any other PE / VC fund. The R&D fund given to these start-ups will provide better results than wasting on internal R&D, where any good idea will take eternity to come out of bureaucracy and gain any visibility.

Second, encourage entrepreneurs within organisation. Start-ups within conglomerate, divorce from any existing corporate hierarchy.

Third, move older generation out of the way. Let them lead and run established business, don’t let them take decisions on new Ideas. They should be driving at left lane and right lane should be cleared for new generation.

We need Innovations / New Ideas to fight against poverty, climate change, income disparity, gender inequality and so on. Start-ups ability to bring change at large scale is limited and takes time. Large corporates hoards all resources and it’s important that they become part of change. Otherwise it will take another 300 years for Sun to occupy centre of our solar system.

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