4 Innovation Lessons We Can All Learn From Startups

We’ve all felt a hint of envy when we hear that yet another startup has done the impossible and disrupted the previously established players. Billion dollar valuations, successful stock market launches and dazzling levels of growth - wouldn’t it be nice if we could all get a little taste of the action?

It is no secret that startups naturally excel at innovation. With an entrepreneurial spirit underpinning everything they do and an accumulation of fresh perspectives and open minds, larger corporations stand to learn a lot from these starter companies. Of course there are inherent differences between the small and big players; we are not suggesting that corporations should forget everything they know and fully embrace the startup mentality. Nevertheless, there are innovation lessons to be learnt and here we share four of the most important.

“82 percent of executives from large companies believe that they can learn from startups and entrepreneurs about how to become digital businesses.” Accenture
  1. Entrepreneurial spirit

It is all too easy for larger corporations to forget how to be an entrepreneur. Structures, office politics and a greater aversion to risk can all stifle this spirit, not to mention that to be an entrepreneur now is very different to what it was twenty years ago. However, a relentless appetite for new products and approaches sits at the heart of both innovation and entrepreneurialism. One cannot exist without the other, so dig deep to find the entrepreneur inside you; it’s there somewhere, or you wouldn’t be where you are today.

By far the best way to learn more about how to be a better entrepreneur is to spend more time with entrepreneurs. Start conversations, listen and learn, adapting your approach to networking accordingly. To be successful, you need to learn to look in the opposite direction to everybody else. It is not necessarily about having a completely new and original idea or product; many of the most successful innovators and entrepreneurs make use of readily available resources and reinvent them for a modern audience. Offer solutions to problems, alleviate customer concerns and address pain points.


  1. Fresh attitude to failure

Changing your perception of failure is something we talk about a lot here at Idea Drop. Stop seeing it as a worst-case scenario outcome but as a learning curve that ultimately contributes to the growth of your business. Of course nobody wants to fail and constant mistakes can be costly, but with the right attitude towards these failures, you can use them to your advantage. Even if a particular idea did not work, the learning outcomes you can take from the process will help develop better ideas and drive success in the long-run.
“Like any big engineering company, we thought for a long time that before you went in front of customers, you needed to have a very perfect product. Which from time to time didn't work because you ended up creating a product based on your own instructions instead of customer wishes. But startups, as soon as they have a working prototype, they go in front of customers to test it. This is one of the lessons we've learned – don't be afraid to go in front of your customer to test an idea." Bruno Gutierres, Head of BizLab
Failure is necessary to grow and without taking risks, your innovation output will ground to a halt and you leave yourself exposed to those pesky startups. Never stop generating ideas and trialling new products, as this circle of trying-failing-learning-succeeding is what drives the innovation engine. Disrupt your own business before somebody else does; often doing nothing is far more risky than trying and failing.


  1. Open-minded approach

Startups know how to think outside the box. Larger corporations often find themselves trapped within an industry bubble, failing to acknowledge the bigger picture. Adopt an open-minded approach and begin by looking past your industry; this is where the most original ideas can be found. Furthermore, look past the ‘now’; don your crystal ball and do your best to think in terms of the future. This will help you to better embrace change and incentivise you to actively seek disruption, rather than avoid it.

It is true that startups have the advantage of being able to start from scratch. They can afford to be ambitious and innovative with their business models and organisational structures. As an established corporation, starting from scratch may not be an option but it can do wonders to look at your business from a completely fresh perspective. Put aside any preconceptions and  consider how you would like your business to look and function if it didn’t already exist. Take some of the learnings from this exercise and apply the elements you can.


  1. Collaboration

Startups tend to be better at collaborating, particularly with regards to bringing together different perspectives which may not traditionally have merged. Consider how you can bring together different people and departments who may not previously have worked with one another. This approach can open up new ways of thinking and generate original ideas.
“One other important ingredient we've learned is to bust up business unit siloes and encourage employees to form cross-functional teams. [...] Startups are like team sports where each player has a specific role. Engineers working with engineering won't lead to anything innovative. However, if you add someone from marketing, sales, finance or HR, then you get different perspectives that can truly ignite innovation. We also know from research and our own experiences that innovators thrive and engage more when working on inclusive and diverse teams," Alex Goryachev, Senior Director of Strategic Innovation and Programs at Cisco Systems.
Shaking up the status quo and disrupting the standard way of working often leads the way to greater innovation. Furthermore, it also provides a valuable lesson for employees. Encouraging them to think outside of the usual parameters and look elsewhere for inspiration will help to cement a thriving workplace innovation culture that delivers.



Cultural change takes time but collaborating with a startup is one way of jumpstarting the process and beginning an agile process of implementing an innovation culture. Ultimately it is all about a change in mindset - a readjustment of attitudes and a fresh approach. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Startups seek advice and guidance from mentors and investors all the time. Just because you may be a large and established organisation doesn’t mean you can’t still ask for help.

Although there are many lessons to be learnt from startups, bear in mind that not all processes are transferrable. There are inherent differences between a startup and a large corporate organisation; it is important that these are taken into consideration and not simply brushed aside in favour of fully embracing a startup mentality. Here it is about achieving an appropriate balance between your existing culture and the most valuable and applicable lessons from startups.



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