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POPin Blog

Innovation in Large Corporations

At some point in any storied career, many of us have chosen a path of ‘corporate America.’ And we’re not gonna lie…there are a lot of advantages to working for a large company. When you start with a large company, you’re taking part in something that’s been around for a while. So, there is typically an established way of doing things. As soon as you walk in, you will know what your job is, how you fit into your department and over time you’ll even learn the obvious pathways for promotions. This isn’t the right route for everyone, but if you want to go into a job with a sense of stability and a well-defined path for advancement, larger companies typically have a more obvious structure in place. Larger companies, in general, are better about providing benefits like health insurance or retirement plans and are more likely to carry larger budgets and offer better perks. Larger companies – by the sheer size and hierarchy – need a lot of people in a wide variety of jobs to get things done. While one’s specific role may be specialized, it’s possible to change positions and explore a new area and switch jobs without leaving the company. Each company has a culture, and successful employees conform to that culture. This can be a good thing, but for many it means that it’s harder to be seen (and heard) as an individual. Shaking things up at a big company can also take a lot of time. Even if your company is open to new ideas (which isn’t always a given), getting your department to move to a new model or create a product can take a lot of time. And it’s safe to say that the need for speed isn’t quite the same. In fact, to innovate or problem-solve at large companies often requires a mastery of slowness; that is, it requires patience and “taking on the organizational politics required to convince others in the company of the value of their innovation,” notes the MIT Sloan Management Review. Most often, the company’s approach is more about “baby steps” (i.e. incremental thinking) which, according to Axiom by Bill Hybels is “the kiss of death, don’t fall for it.” And large companies really do have more red tape. It’s harder to get decisions made, and employees have less autonomy. You may have a brilliant idea, but by the time you follow all required processes, and review it with all the stakeholders, and get your executive team to buy-in (i.e, critical mass), there’s a good chance that it may not even resemble what you started with. As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has noted, “Even well-meaning gatekeepers slow innovation.” How many of us have chosen to take the average path, the familiar route or the easy way down? How many times have we made specific decisions to do things incrementally rather than take a leap of faith and believe our future can be dramatically different? Is it possible that large, established companies meet or exceed an innovation challenge – not only driving the industry change to take advantage of new solutions, but also serving as hotbeds to create them? We think so, but it’s likely to require creating different environments within enterprises, those more conducive to breakthrough, bottom-up innovation. Teams must be inspired by the vision and culture of the company, not compelled by its hierarchy and rewards structure. It would need to provide an environment to inspire new ideas: ways to interact with others from a rich mix of diverse teams and collaborative networks. It should attract interesting players from the company’s landscape to discuss and test ideas. To quote from the book, The Decoded Company, “We believe that audacious and exponential ideas trump incremental thinking.” This is the heart of PoPin’s value in a large or small company, but usually it is a small company that has the guts (and culture) to execute.