What big established companies can do to be more like the disruptive startups that are coming for them


The challenge is on for large organisations in established industries: innovate before you are disrupted. But what can these organisations learn from previous industry-disrupting startups that can enable them to transform before it’s too late?

Be clear on why you are changing

Without a clear reason for business transformation, it’s very hard to lead people through the inevitable challenges that you will face along the way.

To navigate these challenges and communicate why they exist, startups create a mission statement. A good mission statement communicates the emotional outcome that a startup is looking to deliver to the customer in the long term. This asset is then leveraged to engage and motivate the people that matter; customers, employees and investors.

If you are unclear about your purpose for transformation, I suggest you look to a technique known as “The 5 whys”. This will help you to get to the root of the problem you are solving, which can then be developed into a statement that clearly communicates your purpose for transformation.

Define your vision for the future

In the early stages of transformation, focusing too much on what can be done now and not what could be achieved in the future can lead to organisations constraining the opportunity for innovation before they have even begun.

In early stage, or pre-revenue startups, founders need to sell their vision to potential investors. That’s because they don’t yet have the funding to deliver it. And whilst vision may evolve, or even pivot completely over time, it’s this forward thinking that enables innovation in the first place.

To enable you to define your vision for the future, invest time in exploring “what could be achieved?”. Then create your vision in the form of a prototype that your stakeholders and customers can experience. Not only does this give you the ability to communicate where you are intending to go, but the feedback you get can be used to build the business case for getting there.

Start small and build value over time

Too often large organisations define the total (hypothetical) value they will create and then fund large teams to try and make it happen as fast as possible. Not only is this expensive (and therefore riskier), but the bigger you are – the less agile you can be.

In contrast to thinking big, successful startups start small. But whilst it may seem counterintuitive to start small when you have a big vision, size is no measure for potential to disrupt. After all, Kodak had 300,000 people and Instagram had 12, and who won that race?

Instead of trying to define the total hypothetical value, focus on one specific need, for one type of customer, and build value over time. It’s simpler, cheaper and easier to measure.

Move fast and let the customer guide you

When developing new products and services, it’s easy to forget who you are creating value for. This can lead to a situation where people who are emotionally and financially invested in a particular idea, can be resistant to the feedback needed to succeed.

Startups are often born from the problems that the founders have themselves or see in the people around them. They use this connection to guide product development, learning quickly about what does, and more importantly, doesn’t work.

Using interactive design prototypes to execute ideas quickly, you can get feedback from the intended customer early in the product development process. This feedback can be used to guide your team as they seek to create new value for the organisation invested in transformation.

Most importantly, future survival is dependent on outcomes not outputs

Large organisations and their consulting firms are well versed on how agile ways of working and the principles of design thinking can be applied to transformation. The challenge, however, lies in how effectively these companies can move beyond theory into measurable customer experience outcomes.

In startups this is a matter of survival. Those that get caught up in popular concepts but can’t demonstrate real progress simply don’t get funding for their next stage and, as a consequence, don’t survive.

To “be more start up” means to be accountable to outcomes, not outputs. And whilst we cannot predict the future, if we’re looking towards it, we’ll have a better chance of avoiding disruption when it comes.

For the past decade, James Legge, Executive Strategy Director at GHO Sydney has been helping organisations to transform their digital and customer experiences. A student of design and architecture, James is a firm believer that strategy and design are fundamentally connected and therefore cannot exist in silos. With this in mind, James co-founded GHO CoLAB to help businesses transform faster through collaborative design.

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