How Big Companies Can Save Innovation
In my latest Harvard Business Review article, “The New Corporate Garage,” I argue that we’re transitioning into a new age where forward-thinking corporations that blend entrepreneurial behaviors with existing capabilities can have massive impact. The article is a call to arms for corporate innovators to seize the opportunities that only a big company can realize and to corporate leaders to ensure they create a culture conducive to transformational innovation and impact.
Many still see large companies as the problem, not the solution. Hot new startups show up and are lauded daily. So it might seem counterintuitive to suggest that large companies are where the innovation action will be. But the shift has already begun. For example, one story in the article describes how Swiss agrichemical giant Syngenta leveraged existing crop protection products and deep relationships with retailers to develop a version of the “sachet” model popularized by consumer packaged goods companies. The uwezo program allows it to bring modern technologies to 4 million smallholders in Kenya.
The Syngenta story, like the other three case studies in the article, had a clear protagonist, a “corporate catalyst”: someone who marshaled resources both inside and outside the company and built organizational support for the disruptive growth strategy.
Companies looking for their own corporate catalysts should ask three critical questions.
1. Do we take advantage of our global scale in the quest to identify up and coming talent?
Global giants have a hidden advantage in the battle to snag up-and-coming catalysts. While entrepreneurialism is growing in cities like Shanghai, Sao Paolo, and Jakarta, the scales remain tilted much more toward multinationals in these cities and indeed in many emerging markets.
Consider IBM. The company has more than 400,000 employees spread around the world. It has the resources to search for and assimilate the world’s best talent and further shape and refine it. A two-person Silicon Valley startup simply doesn’t have that ability.
Beyond sourcing talent globally, IBM works to spread that talent throughout its organization. During a recent panel discussion, “Does Asia have the talent to lead innovation in the 21st century?”, IBM Talent VP Diane Gherson told me how the company is shifting from historical models where a handful of senior executives would serve lengthy expatriate assignments to new models featuring shorter assignments for younger employees. It’s just one way that “Big Blue” makes sure it takes full advantage of its global scale.
Scott D. Anthony is managing director of Innosight Asia-Pacific.