“In a world of rapidly accelerating change, where technology threatens to remake almost every aspect of every company in every industry, how do large corporations, built for predictability and stability, adapt and innovate fast enough to survive and thrive?”
This question was posed to me not long ago, from a young entrepreneur. I provided a full answer but was tempted to say “Come to my high-tech industry. This is the way we have always lived.”
Change is the only permanent part of life. Technology has always been a change agent, altering the way we live, work, war, farm, build and leave the planet. Other industries can learn from the soul of Silicon Valley, where change is not only considered a good thing, but the essence of life itself.
What other industries are rapidly becoming aware of is that they too need stunning, rapid, even monumental innovation to catapult past competitors. We are beginning to see otherwise sedate industries using Silicon Valley language and challenging their employees to think more like Steve Jobs than Henry Ford.
How tech leaders stay in the lead
High tech is an industry where a small change can knock market leaders from first to last place overnight. Silicon Valley is a graveyard of fallen titans, each bested by something new. I’m credited with conceptualizing the wafer stepper, which dramatically shrunk the geometries of semiconductors. This changed the fates of companies who adopted this technology, and left others to slowly perish.
Here are the lessons well understood in Silicon Valley, now offered to every industry.
Be the change: Winston Churchill once said, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” This was not only a statement about his penning of the history of his age, but also his active role in shaping world events.
When you define change, you lead change. Every business leader should create an organizational mindset of being at the forefront of their industry – to be the leader, not the follower. It is a more treacherous path, for the unknown is always murky. But companies who blaze trails find new worlds with new riches and take the lion’s share of it.
Accept change and adapt to it: Fighting change is like fighting the tide, a wholly useless endeavor. Leading change is the best route. But at a very minimum, you must be flexible and adapt to change when it occurs – which it always will.
The old mindset was to fear and resist change. Silicon Valley prefers to be excited by change, including risky competitive gambits. An organization that views change as desirable automatically adopts a mindset of being flexible. As an old Asian adage says, “The bamboo survives the typhon better than the mighty oak, because it has learned to bend with the wind.”
Be nimble: To be nimble is to be “quick and light in movement or action.” This does not mean being erratic and taking huge responses to change. It means being lean, alert and agile.
Since tech companies know their cheese will be moved, we have developed a native quick response process. In Silicon Valley, the goal is to (a) recognize change, (b) analyze it, (c) evaluate options without the blinders of personal and corporate history, and (d) move forward. Since the most frequent change is better or new technology, we are experts at reverse engineering and market mapping to see where innovation – ours or our competitors’ – will lead.
Reward creativity: Most everyone can be creative, but not everyone is comfortable showing their creative spirit. If you doubt this, invite 20 people to sing at a karaoke event and see how many do.
Your organization needs to believe individual creativity will be rewarded. Only when this is the common mindset will each employee, metaphorically, grab a microphone. Rewarding market-focused creativity – be it a better artificial intelligence algorithm or a better focused brochure layout – requires the recognition that the employees’ efforts have moved the ball downfield.
The change imperative
“How do large corporations, built for predictability and stability, adapt and innovate fast enough to survive and thrive?” The same way small companies do.
Ponder the small “we have nothing to lose” firm. They are willing to run headlong into the battlefield of commerce and invent new ways of charming their market. Big companies often have calcifications that slow responsiveness, bureaucracies that deter excited innovation, and rules that stifle engagement.
Large companies thrive by being small companies scaled up and enjoying the art of change.
Originally publish at Forbes