Updated: Jan 21, 2021
When first starting my career, I interned with what was then the world’s most disruptive tech-giant: Microsoft.
By the time I first shuffled into Microsoft offices, the company had been exploring highly profitable and previously uncharted waters for almost three decades. During my time with Microsoft, they simultaneously launched the Xbox and Windows XP. Tech geeks were camping out overnight to get hold of new Microsoft products. From beneath every mouse mat on every employee’s desk, innovation oozed.
Yet in the years that followed, Microsoft’s trademark ingenuity ebbed away. Google, Apple and Amazon emerged as the innovators of the 21st century. By comparison, Microsoft became clunky and outdated.
Where, exactly, did all the innovation go?
Innovation should be the job of everyone
In our experience, once corporates reach a certain size, innovation becomes risky, costly and ever-more difficult to implement. So corporates typically establish innovation teams to explore and develop new innovations.
Should that really be the case?
Even the largest of innovation teams only ever makes up a tiny fraction of a corporate workforce. By entrusting innovation teams alone to come up with new ideas, corporates artificially limit innovation… and game-changing ideas begin to pass corporates by.
The trap seems to at least partly explain Microsoft’s ‘decade of despair’ following the turn of the century. Once the company hit a certain size, it began crushing ideas that didn’t align with Microsoft’s existing offering. Microsoft reportedly killed an early version of an e-reader, and ideas around smartphones were deemed unimportant.
In the absence of a continuous pipeline of new ideas, it took fifteen years and a new CEO for the company to return to summits it first conquered in 2001.
Why engaging employees is more important now than ever
Following the rise of collaborative growth (a growth model that sees corporates partner with startups to introduce new innovations), empowering all employees to feed into innovation is more important now than ever before – for two reasons.
The first: corporate transformation only happens when you transform the core. By involving more employees in innovation, new ideas are far more likely to gain support throughout your organisation, and are thus more likely to succeed.
The second is; before searching for collaborative growth partners, innovation teams need to know who to partner with and in what capacity. To unearth new partners, innovation teams need to hear from the wider organisation.
How it’s done
Knowing this, today’s corporates are increasingly encouraging employees from outside of innovation teams to feed into innovation.
For example, earlier this year we worked with Vodafone to connect 250 of their senior leaders to 20 disruptive new startups. Vodafone leaders quickly saw how they might apply the innovations to existing business challenges and unsurprisingly many of these startups are now being rolled out across Vodafone, bringing gamechanging tools and ideas to their 110,000 employees and 400 million customers.
The magic to engaging more entrepreneurs
We know innovation plays a big part in safeguarding long-term corporate success. We also know that partnering with startups allows corporates to innovate quickly, with little risk and little investment.
Encouraging deeper engagement from all employees means more partnerships and, ultimately, more collaborative growth. So what’s the secret to transformational startup partnerships?
It all begins with empowering existing employees.
Jeremy Basset is the CEO of CO:CUBED
Co:cubed is an innovation consultancy specialising in helping corporates and startups to collaborate. We help many of the world’s largest organisations, including Vodafone, HSBC and Burberry, to design and execute programmes which engage their employees on their innovation journey.