The publication of Eric Ries's book The Lean Startup in 2011 sparked a revolution in business. Suddenly, companies big and small -- and of every size in between -- were inspired to adopt the entrepreneurial habits of lean businesses in hopes of becoming more agile, effective, and profitable.
We all know the success stories of Uber, Airbnb, SpaceX, DocuSign, and the more than 100 other "unicorn" startups with valuations of more than a billion dollars each. These businesses were created out of nothing, and they have changed our lives for the better -- or soon will. We expect these young companies to be innovative and flexible, to take risks, to challenge the status quo, to experiment, to move quickly, and to constantly disrupt their industries. That's all a part of the startup DNA.
But what about the big companies that are the bulwark of global business today? Companies such as Walmart, Exxon Mobil, General Electric, McDonald's, Toyota, IBM, Johnson & Johnson and others like them? The conventional wisdom is that large businesses like these, though they may be successful, are inherently uncreative, bureaucratic, inflexible, averse to taking risks, slow to change, defenders of the status quo (actually, they are the status quo), and see little upside to disrupting their industries.
Says Amanda Setili, an Atlanta-based management consultant (with whom I've done work in the past), and author of the book, Fearless Growth, "These [big] businesses have proved that they are built to last, spotting trends and opportunities as they emerge, and then taking quick, effective action to achieve revenue growth."
According to Amanda, there are seven powerful rules that today's most-successful businesses have used to their great advantage:
1. Embrace uncertainty
Nothing is certain in business--every day brings with it new challenges, and new opportunities. The only thing certain is that overemphasis on predictability, and inability to understand and manage risk, will kill a business. Big and fast companies must learn to embrace and exploit uncertainty.
2. Get in sync with customers
Your customers are a remarkably powerful and often underutilized source of ideas for new products and services, and new ways to do business. Yet too often, corporate leaders get so caught up in the internal workings of their firms, such as people issues, budgets, and meetings, that they lose touch with customers. Too late, they find themselves going left when customers are headed right. By closely collaborating with customers, learning from "outliers", and observing how customers customize and use your products, you can multiply your organizational effectiveness many-fold.
3. Partner, borrow, and share
Increase the flow of talent, data, assets, technology, and knowledge into and out of the company. The flow will leverage the ideas and capabilities outside your organization while strengthening the people, processes, and capabilities inside your organization.
4. Connect and strengthen your ecosystem
No longer do companies have to "do everything" to be successful. If you know what you want to accomplish, you can access the assets, talent and capabilities of the world to achieve your goals. The best large businesses crowdsource, outsource and make use of freelancers, bloggers, micro businesses, individual innovators, and myriad partners to achieve far more than they could on their own.
5. Open the floodgates of employee creativity
Employees want to be engaged in their work, and want to contribute to something greater than themselves. Too often, however, we squander their talent by over-measuring, micromanaging, and failing to inspire. We fail to nurture employees' natural desire to collaborate with others, and to grow their own skills. Give employees the power, knowledge, and network they need, and you will unlock vast power.
6. Achieve fast and fearless learning
Fast learning is the most valuable competitive advantage a company can build. Keenly observing the business environment, taking action before you feel fully ready, and incorporating learnings immediately into your strategy are tickets to play in today's fast-changing global economy.
7. Build trust into all you do
Business is built on a firm foundation of relationships--with employees, business partners, customers, and the communities in which we work. Without trust, fear and second guessing take over, and action grinds to a halt. Time we could spend working toward common goals--and growing our business--is shifted to negotiating terms, legal wrangling and the like. When we establish trust by being authentic, forthright and true to our word, all parties can act with speed and the sum becomes much greater than the parts.