Death through corporations?

Innovation and the opportunities for large companies

Inflexible, rigid, sluggish – some people don’t have anything positive to say about the organizational structures of large companies. In comparison to the flexible, unconventional start-ups with flat or non-existent hierarchies, classic hierarchically organized corporations often have long chains of command that in turn lead to seemingly endless decision-making processes. Distributing responsibility means the following in particular: nobody is responsible. “I can’t tell you anything about that, unfortunately. You need to contact XY.” It probably has something to do with convenience, with the ability to disappear and hide, but certainly with a lack of clarity in terms of responsibilities: everyone has someone else above them who, when in doubt, has greater power to make decisions. Can innovations arise here?

The other version: everyone wants a say. Instead of clearly appointed decision-makers, there are numerous employees who are constantly getting in each others way and stepping on each others toes, voicing criticism, inputting their knowledge, and wanting to take a position. But wait a moment: that is exactly what large corporations value most! A sheer inexhaustible pool of thinkers! Here is where companies like the swb, with 160 years of experience and a mature identity and both feet planted firmly in the market, have a large number of different employees available with a wide variety of skills and perspectives. Fertile ground for the development, enabling, and promotion of innovative ideas together within a proper framework. After so many decades in the business, something seems to be working right. Over the course of time, corporations have always needed to reorganize; adapt to the changes in their environments; reconsider, expand, change, and develop their areas of business; re-invent themselves; and – although maybe at a slightly slower pace – adapt to modern times. We all know that weight slows you down. Size, though, also means a high level of security, lots of room to play, and opportunities – not only financially. Even the supposedly negative aspects have a positive effect on innovation: permanent cost pressure, a changing and not always clear political framework, uncontrollable market movements, the image of corporations in the public eye: this all leads to a duty to constantly keep pace with the times. Challenges are the drivers of innovation.

What can companies learn from start-ups, though? And what value do large corporations offer to entrepreneurs on their path to the market? Do large corporations need the fluid approach followed by young entrepreneurs? Or does process organization and structure mean security in the chaotic mess created during the development of ideas? The flexibility, curiosity, passion, openness, and conviction with which start-ups support their own ideas, the so-called positive megalomania, are certainly an inspiration for the thoughts and actions of a corporation. Young entrepreneurs are rarely weary of putting things into question in order to make progress. Support and the much-vaunted networking are a matter of course for those who follow their own path. Large corporations don’t even have to step out the door for this: networking can be lived and used in a large company, internal partnerships offer great opportunities – and structures such as predefined process flows mean reliability. The corporation as an opportunity– and a learning experience for those who are just getting started.