Bringing the skate park into the boardroom
When you’re a kid one of the main things you want to do is grow up – being an adult means you get to drive a car, drink and stay up late. Ironically when you get to my age the idea of someone else cooking your meals, looking after you and taking care of the worries while you just play with Lego looks more and more appealing. So young people act/dress old and vice versa.
It is a bit like that with start-ups and big corporates. Obviously start-ups don’t have anyone looking after them from a parental standpoint but you can often see those in large organisations looking enviously out from the top floor boardroom at the start-up kids messing around in the skate park outside. And in many cases start-ups envy the support and money that the corporate life delivers.
Consequently there have been many attempts to merge the best bits of both types of organisation – the ‘try it, fail, move on’ culture of a start-up with the financial might of a corporate. Often it ends in expensive failure as start-ups get swallowed, ground down and digested, meaning everyone leaves and goes back to the skate park. This seems to be the fate of anyone selling anything to AOL and Yahoo.
However an interesting piece on the BBC documents how corporates are trying to harness innovation. Much in the same way that Proctor and Gamble is partnering with companies with new ideas, PepsiCo is now working with 10 European start-ups, providing financial help in return for co-operation on innovative marketing. And organisations like Aviva are launching spin-off brands with their own teams and budgets that aim to replicate the buzz and energy of a start-up.
For me, both of these ideas smack of window dressing, particularly as at the moment, start-ups are cool. While of course you can learn from the start-up mindset when it comes to marketing campaigns, it isn’t going to radically change 285,000 person PepsiCo overall. And spin-off brands tend either to be killed when management changes, want to spin-out on their own (a la Egg) or simply ossify to become part of the market landscape.
What we actually need is a neutral forum that brings together start-ups and corporates on a level playing field so they can learn from each other, without money changing hands. Start-ups get real mentoring from people they trust, while corporates learn new techniques that they can apply. I may have missed it, but surely this is something that the government should be pushing if it wants to create a Startup Britain?
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