How can global brands stay relevant to their consumers? By thinking smaller. This was a major theme from the Grow day at Digital Shoreditch – the festival for London’s digital, tech and social industries.
It’s a familiar aspirational story by now: a college teenager has a bright idea that nobody else ever thought of, and in few short years manages to turn it into a commercial empire. And while this is far from a readily replicatable business model, there are certainly things that larger organisations can learn from startups.
Do you have a strategy or a culture?
Processes and strategies are informed by what we have learned in the past, making them an indispensable tool for many businesses – unless you want to break new ground. Both entrepreneurs and consumers have an innate bias towards the familiar, and an awareness of this bias is crucial. What we describe as ‘good’ ideas are often merely safe ideas. “Breakthrough innovators assume they’re going to get it wrong,” says London Strategy Unit’s Adam Sweeney. “So they create a portfolio of ‘bad’ ideas.”
The truly pioneering companies that invent new markets are those with a culture of experimentation. Smaller businesses aren’t inherently better than bigger ones, but they are more flexible and have a tendency to look at the data which is available to them, rather than spending fortunes on consumer research (which can often be misleading, thanks to the aforementioned bias). Larger organisations may not be light on people and light on assets in the way that startups are, but by embracing a more adaptable and experimental culture, they find opportunities which they would previously have overlooked.
Do you value EQ as well as IQ?
Driving a company to succeed isn’t always about being the smartest kid in the room. While each and every company relies on technical skill-sets, emotional intelligence is just as important, says Iulia Tudor. A community marketing manager at Start-up Institute, Tudor advises that candidates with a strong EQ are “coachable”, “fearless”, and most importantly “human”. If startups are all about growth, and growth is all about making connections, then emotional intelligence is not to be underestimated as an asset to your business.
Is happiness part of your business model?
Noam Sohachevsky, director of ‘anarchy incubator’ Mint Digital, believes that “great businesses are driven forward by personal passion.” Mint Digital have developed an array of small businesses which tap into the on-demand economy and are rooted in the personal interests of its staff. For example, Desk Beers is a subscription service which delivers a selection of craft beers to its customers every Friday.
If a chief executive were to think of their company as their legacy, is its bottom line the most important criteria? Laurence McCahill, co-founder of The Happy Startup School, cites Etsy and Kickstarter as examples of companies where passion and purpose are the new currency. “The greatest businesses of the 21st century will not be about making money,” he says. “We need to look beyond the selfish, and look at business as a force for good.”
Philip Ellis is a journalist for OgilvyDo.com, Ogilvy’s global thought leadership channel. The Drum and Ogilvy UK are working in partnership to share the latest thinking from Digital Shoreditch 2015. Read more at The Drum’s Digital Shoreditch hub.