Looking to nature for innovation techniques in business is becoming a growing trend. At the recent Hargraves Institute conference on innovation, Dougal Edwards, CEO of business accelerator, Bright Arena, gave an address on the value of startup ecosystem structures in business and suggested that large organisations have a lot to learn from these nimble models.
“A startup is based very much on the principles of an ecosystem”, Edwards explained, “it is flexible, emergent, adaptable, responsive, experimental, self sustaining, able to transform and open to interaction.” To capture this startup mentality, Edwards advised that big businesses need to adopt these characteristics, which is not always easy in a rigid corporate structure, fortunately there are tools available to support the process.
“Mesh the hierarchy, take a systems approach and start hacking,” says Edwards. Translated, this means revising the traditional corporate structure, for example taking a bottom up approach to innovation or involving teams in lateral sectors, using design thinking techniques, considering a lean startup model and most importantly remaining agile.
Startups take a systems approach to innovation, which refers to taking a holistic view of the business, revaluating what you are trying to achieve and acting accordingly. Hacking the system implies experimentation, immersing yourself in the customer experience and focusing on ideas that are scalable. Table 1 is from Edwards’ presentation.
Flinders University launched a program last year that teaches students flexibility in business, based on the entrepreneurial startup model. As 97% of Australian businesses are small to medium size enterprises (SMEs), the university felt it was important to teach students about the environment they will be working in once they graduate. Groups of students are currently working with startups to help them develop strategies, enabling students to build an entrepreneurial thinking capacity even before they enter the job market.
The ecosystem model is gaining such interest that Microsoft recently released a report called Joined-Up Innovation, which urgently calls for a review of how Australia’s innovation ecosystem works. The report aims is to amplify Australia’s tech innovation movement and outlines seven steps that Australia can take to enhance the fragmented innovation workforce. Microsoft, however, insists it’s not all about startups and says that SMEs will have a huge part to play in the innovation space. Interestingly, one of Microsoft’s recommendations for change is transforming the culture of an organisation. This is a suggestion that Australia’s startup ecosystem has been making for several years.
Dougal Edwards, Hargraves Member Advocate Victoria, presented at Hargraves Conference 2014. For further insights from Dougal Edwards follow him on Twitter @dougaled