This article was published on August 16, 2016

Why tech startups should embrace failures

Why tech startups should embrace failures
Robin Bade
Story by

Robin Bade

Robin Bade, Regional Director Europe and Founding Partner, Mirum Robin Bade, Regional Director Europe and Founding Partner, Mirum

Innovation is essential in today’s business environment.

Building innovation into your company’s DNA is vital but as soon as you hear that the HR department is trying to ‘foster a culture of innovation’ you may as well throw in the towel.

Is the fear of failure stunting innovation in business?

It’s an admirable long-term  aim but what about tomorrow, next week, next month? An innovative culture can only be achieved by doing and the doing needs to start today!

The current corporate innovation journey typically starts with the board setting some vague objectives and non-measurable targets, after which expensive consultants are hired to implement a three year plan that has no clear outcome.

Were the objectives achieved? Who cares?! The world has moved on. A thousand startups have been launched since you started ‘fostering’. You should have moved quicker.

But how? A leftfield analogy! Innovation shoud be seen as a disease. A positive disease. It should incubate in a small team in a corner then spread to other teams.

It should mutate, learn and develop as it goes, always adapting and infecting.

Innovation needs to be seeded in small teams because if you throw seeds at the masses they seldom catch them; this is typically the way that corporations are going about it.

However, throw the seeds of innovation to a small group of people who are focused on catching and planting them, and they will successfully grow into a blooming demonstration of the power of innovation.

The leadership problem

Part of the problem is leadership.

Currently, the big boys are trying to break out of an old school mindset which means they typically think they can take as much time as they want when it comes to innovating.

This paradigm is closely aligned to the evolutionary/sustainable model of innovation, made up of a daily slog to stay in the market and remain competitive.

It’s all focused on incremental movement. It’s what car makers do; build better cars than last year’s model. It’s what Apple does with the iPhone, small incremental changes.

But, we live a disruptive world now. The democratization of technology has meant it is cheap and manageable to develop and create cool new products and services. Airbnb and Uber are the obvious (and over-used) examples.

The more forward-thinking major players are now realizing they’re under threat from leaner startups and that they need to be more disruptive in their own approach to innovation.

Unfortunately, most of them have been built for the evolutionary way and don’t have the balls for the revolutionary approach to innovation.

They have to realize that the innovation challenge no longer sits with the tech side of a business.

It pervades the boardroom and the C-suite as it’s all about new business models.

The worst thing a company can do is set up a three year program (which does nothing to challenge the end consumer) and throw 100 people at it without knowing what they are actually meant to be doing.

And the big consultancies, typically made up of people from MBA backgrounds, are not going to innovate.

Instead, organisations need to align themselves with more challenging partners, partners made up from a diverse ‘human soup.’

These people need to be thinkers and makers. They need to be developers, designers, poets and business thinkers. If you plug the same thing in you’re going to get the same thing out.

It’s only when you mix things up a little and build teams that complement one another or even challenge each other, that you are going to be able to forge a path down revolutionary road.

Get mad at one another and offend your clients if you truly want to get somewhere. Fast and challenging projects facilitate this way of working.

Visible trends

At the moment, there are a few visible trends happening in the marketplace that should give you confidence to knock on the doors of the people you want to embed yourself with, with your heads held high.

  1. Consultancies know they are in trouble: On a macro level, the likes of McKinsey and Deloitte are now buying design firms wholesale so they can offer their clients what you folks have been able to offer in aces since your inception.
  2. Business models are being challenged: The cost of appropriating technology has fallen sharply in the last few years. This has challenged current business models within corporations who have relied on cumbersome university and government partners to help them innovate in the past. Go to market has become too quick for these giants. Now they need challenging partners to harness and feed on the challenges they are experiencing internally. You are said partners.
  3. The outsider’s view: As mentioned already, it is important to work with diverse teams. Business design, service design, deep market understanding and specific professionals should be mixed to create an outsider’s view of the problem, which in turn will lead to ‘realer’ solutions.

Get yourself disease perfect

Now that you know the problems the big boys are facing and how best to foster innovation, you need to get yourself prepped. Here’s how:

  • It’s a truism but as a startup you should be ready to fail. Don’t be afraid of this. Nine out of 10 startups fail.
  • By failing you are doing the right thing, however, try to fail fast and then reboot.
  • Focus on the end-user. Forget about technology and your own business structures. Concentrate solely on the end game.
  • If you become preoccupied with your own internal workings then you are focusing much needed time and energy on yourself and and you’re not the one buying your product or service. It’s time to stop thinking and start doing.

Talent is not the same as experience. I can’t stress this enough. Get in the kitchen and concoct that ‘soup’.

How do you solve a 2020 problem with ’90s methods? You don’t.

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