Innovation Corporate Start Ups

King of Shaves and Gifgaff founders on how start-up culture can help big businesses drive innovation


By Sam Scott | former employee

March 6, 2014 | 3 min read

King of Shaves founder Will King, Giffgaff creator Gav Thompson and Conde Nast's digital adviser James Bilefield, were among those who gathered in London this week to discuss the difficult relationship between the culture of start-ups and risk-adverse business models, during a panel hosted by creative agency Albion.

The event, 'Why big businesses are bad at innovation', explored how the culture of start-ups operates with a different set of rules to the 'tyranny of the average', the result-driven targets and timelines that often dominate successful corporations.

The Global Innovation Index 2013, carried out by Cornell University, INSEAD and the World Intellectual Property Organization, found that the UK trails the US and others countries in developing its innovations into commercial opportunities, often leaving others to reap the benefits of its breakthroughs.

King Of Shaves founder King spoke at the event of the failures of many brands to proactively lead in their business space. "Corporations should embrace change as a constant. Nokia didn’t do that, Blackberry didn't do that. They assumed they we're going to be massive and within a nanosecond they weren't," he said.

"The questions is, can big companies innovate," said James Bilefield, digital business builder and adviser at Conde Nast.

"As a corporation, how do you stop yourself being disrupted by one of these young companies coming through, like a Skype taking on a British Telecom?"

"A company like BT was not likely to develop a product like Skype because it was so cannibalising to their core business. So the question is can you learn something from these innovative companies and use that to disrupt yourself, rather than wait to be disrupted from outside?," he added.

The panelists explored the degree to which start-up culture can provide the way forward, but also debated the best way to integrate innovation within corporate businesses.

"The art of innovation is knowing when to treat it as its own thing with its own key performance indicators, and when to roll it back into the mother ship," said Giffgaff creator Gav Thompson, and global director of insights and innovation at Telefonica.

Paul Jakimciw, managing partner at Albion spoke to The Drum of the sense of obligation that large corporations often have with respect to innovation. "Efforts to innovate can sometime happen for the wrong reasons, such as seeing that other companies have an innovation team and thinking that you must have one too despite lacking clear goals".

The dangers of impulsive and non-integrated efforts at innovation were also raised by Gav Thompson, who warned against an attitude of complacency that can develop in companies with a dedicated innovations team. "Other people in the company can say, 'let not be clever because those guys are doing it. You never want to out-source innovation. Innovation can happen anywhere".

Albion's approach to fostering disruptive ideas in large businesses is one of creative partnership. The agency describes itself as a "creative partner for clients who want to build challenger brands products and communications". Albion's success stories to date include the incubation Skype's brand development from 2004 to 2010, as well as the ground up execution of giffgaff.

Innovation Corporate Start Ups

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