4 Ways Every Corporation Can Innovate Like A Startup


There has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur. The nature of innovation today encourages nimbleness, flexibility and creativity above all else. If you are an innovator, it’s an exciting world full of possibilities. If you aren’t an innovator, but instead run a traditionally structured business, figuring out how to succeed in this dynamic and fast-paced world can feel daunting.

According to author of Innovating Innovation! Mike Stemple, business leaders can learn a lot from successful startups and the innovative entrepreneurs who run them. Stemple himself has built over twenty startups. As a consultant, he aided the strategic and tactical development of a new technology with an established government contractor and in doing so, helped secure a $750 million contract. Stemple has worked with many innovative companies, including Disney, Sprint, Nissan, Volvo, HP, Molson Coors, 3M, Dell, American Express and BMW.

“Most companies suck at innovation because they are not thinking and acting like a startup,” Stemple said. “To avoid falling into this trap, business leaders should focus on talent, embrace audacious ideas, prioritize performance over process and package their offerings in an appealing, dynamic way.”

1. Hire more innovators

Startups and entrepreneurs know that innovative people are the heart of any business. Corporations must learn to prioritize hiring innovators. Luckily, at its core, innovation is 100 percent psychological, and because it is dominated by psychology, it’s accessible to anyone.

“I believe that anyone can be an innovator, although it comes more naturally for some than others,” Stemple said. “Innovators see the world not as it is but as it could be. They spend time in their vision of the future, then come back to the present and build a bridge to that future.”

Just hiring innovators is not enough. Corporations must also make sure their culture supports innovation. If a company creates a culture of fear, even inadvertently, it will be impossible to create the kinds of ideas that will change the world.

Here, too, corporations can look to startups for inspiration. The startup world celebrates the creation of game-changing innovations, and consumers reward innovative companies with their loyalty and business.

2. Embrace audacious ideas

Hiring and empowering innovators is just the beginning. Corporations must also learn to embrace audacious ideas, just as startups do.

“Startups base their entire existence around an audacious idea, and they build audacious innovations on an audacious timescale,” Stemple said. “They gain an advantage by responding more quickly to evolution, while corporations tend to wait for third-party confirmation of the changes that they see in the market.”

Waiting is not an effective strategy for dealing with evolution. The corporate culture wants to wait until a problem fully develops, and then find a solution. A more effective approach is to do what innovators do, staying ahead of the curve and seeking out the opportunities revealed by the changing environment. Then, work early on to create solutions.

Large companies are often all too happy to settle for “enough.” The focus on doing “enough” to respond to the evolution of the world isn’t effective because evolution never stops. By the time you build something that is just “enough,” you need something else. Responding to every small change in this incremental way is highly inefficient. To make gains, you must anticipate the future and build for it.

3. Prioritize performance over process

A big part of being able to embrace audacious ideas is avoiding getting stuck in how you do things to the point where you stop asking how well you do them. Process and operations are overrated. Performance beats process every time.

“In large corporations, there’s a reverence for established processes, and it sometimes takes considerable inertia to change the way that things are done,” Stemple said. “Good ideas for change are ignored because the corporate status quo is adhered to without question.”

The devotion to established processes is one of the reasons why innovation is absent in some large businesses. They treat their processes as law. If they have a lot of inefficient rules or processes, especially when it comes to innovation, those rules act as a tax, cutting into the possibility of successful innovations and future profit.

Efficient startups don’t have this tax. They don’t have established processes, so they develop processes along the way. A process that doesn’t work isn’t a disaster, because it can be easily discarded for something better. By remaining fluid and forgiving, startups create agile processes that are finely tuned to the project that they are trying to build and the customer they serve. Startups have the flexibility to chart their own path, which means they can move faster than corporations that have created their own roadblocks.

4. Tell better stories

There’s one more step corporate leaders must take to innovate like a startup. They must learn to tell better stories, because effective stories lead to revenue.

“The boardroom is such an analytical place that corporate leaders often forget how powerful emotional storytelling can be,” Stemple said. “I spend a lot of time teaching corporate innovators how to tell better stories. It’s really hard to say no to a story you are emotionally invested in.”

Great innovators understand that stories and innovation get a lot of their power from the unknown. We always want to know what will happen next.

The unknown can be fearful, but it’s also exciting. The best stories, and the best innovations, tap into the excitement associated with the unknown. Like storytellers, it’s the innovator’s job to build a path to and through the unknown. All innovation is a story, and an innovator must build upon the story and make it clearer as it goes.

Get your business into fighting shape

While it can feel daunting to achieve, true innovation is within your grasp. “You already have everything you need to do it,” Stemple said. “Everyone has it in them to innovate, to take something out-of-date and adapt it to a new environment.”

To keep the progress moving, make sure you are bringing in and supporting other innovators. Be willing to embrace audacious ideas. Make performance, not process, the most important thing at your company. Learn to tell more engaging stories about your offerings.

If you do, you will be able to tap into the most essential part of the human experience and take your company to the next level. Once you embrace innovation like a startup, you will be ready to create the future.

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