Is the key to innovation for corporates partnering with startups or is there more to it?


On 24 May 2018, I was fortunate enough to participate in a Techweek debate organised by Pixel Fusion.

The topic was “The key to successful corporate innovation is corporates partnering with startups”.

Luckily, to suit my rebel personality, I was on the opposition team with Pavan Dyas of Rush Digital and Lisa Miles-Heal of Unleashed Software. The proposition team of Teresa Pollard, Scott Bishop and Sonya Crosby gave as good as they got.

None of the participants chose which side we were on (and none of the opposition team don’t think that startups have a role), and we used the opportunity to explore some of the other ingredients to successful innovation in corporates.

I was the last speaker of the night and after listening to proposition team, I dropped my prepared opening as they reminded me of something. I want to share that analogy with you now:

“You know when you look through a magazine and see those pictures of rich old men and old women who date young, hot models?

“It doesn’t make YOU look cool. It doesn’t make YOU young. It certainly won’t make YOU hot. Look, I know that startups are sexy, but, dating a startup isn’t going to change anything. It might make you feel better, but it isn’t going to improve your business.”

Jokes aside, there are many fads in business, and incubators, and investing in startups are merely the latest.

To think about innovation – in a corporate or startup world – you need to challenge yourself to think about the WHY?

WHY are we innovating?

Our suggestion is that because customer expectations are changing (and a lot). The biggest painpoints of our customers since we started ThinkLazy (formerly Digile) are very simple: sales and growth are much harder nowadays.

To prove the point, just look at the smartphone in your pocket (or your hand right now) – how that has changed our expectations of ease of use and interactivity. We expect that in everything and expect everything now.

What I usually do, is to ask you to put yourselves in your customers’ shoes or think of yourself as a customer. Imagine you have bought a new product and just taken it home. Would you be happy spending half an hour reading the manual? Actually, spend half hour so you can turn on your brand shiny device? Well, I suspect not. It should just work – please don’t make me think!

As consumers, we are lazy and in a hurry. My generation doesn’t time for manuals anymore. But do you know what? The new kids (born in 1990 or 2000 and your future customers) don’t even know what a manual is and what it means to wait for anything.

This is why innovation is essential. Your products need to meet the expectations of these millennials.

Thus it is vital to focus on core problems of the business rather than just have startups with cool ideas knocking on your door.

So, rather than focus on startups, focus on the ideas that matter, the people that can execute on them and the rules that get in the way.

Some of those people may be external, and some will be internal, but find the right mix of entrepreneurial people to reinvent your business, because that is what’s necessary.

On the night, the opposition team won. But the real winners were all of those people who are passionate about innovation in New Zealand. We’re glad to have played a small part and very thankful to Pixel Fusion for creating such a great opportunity for debate.

This is also why ThinkLazy exists. We are a team of entrepreneurs who work with corporates, startups and other businesses to help them innovate to solve their core customer problems. We help with the upfront thinking and then we execute with software development that addresses the key problems quickly and effectively. And we do all this in a collaborative way.

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