What a giant can learn from a dwarf

“Paradise Bridge” by Hartwig HKD, https://www.flickr.com/photos/h-k-d/

“Paradise Bridge” by Hartwig HKD, https://www.flickr.com/photos/h-k-d/

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The MAIM Class of 2014 shares their individual experiences of innovation, in the lead up to their Degree Show, Exploiting Chaos: Innovation in the Making.
The Bridgers examine ways to incorporate different knowledge, expertise and approaches, to be harnessed at the organizational level. Hisae Mukuno shares here reflections on what large companies can learn from small startups.

The start-up is the modern version of dishwasher-to-millionaire myth. Examples for successful start-ups are aplenty, but what is it that these startups have, that traditional large organisations do not? What can these industrial giants learn from the little entrepreneurial dwarfs?


At the outset of my research, I was set to better understand the differences between start-ups and large organisations in terms of business approach. I expected that  organisational agility and entrepreneurship are the key elements for large corporations to create innovation in business


I firstly focused on Lean Startup Theory as a business process that most start-ups adopt to follow. The theory is a series of recursive processes not only to develop the product and service but also the process to identify who is a customer. Looking at successful start-ups such as Airbnb, finding proper customers seems to an important secret of being successful.


In the meantime though, I realised that business process is only one dimension to consider why start-ups are more innovative than traditional companies. During my field research, I focussed on entrepreneurial behaviour and was able to identify some decisive characteristics that many successful entrepreneurs share.


The first characteristic I found was the self-confident, ‘can-do’ mind-set. Strong self-belief is important to achieve entrepreneurial goals in the face of uncertainty and risks. Secondly, successful entrepreneurs recognise opportunities by seeing value in things where others do not. And finally, entrepreneurs have the ability and persistence to transform these identified opportunities to actual products or services. But there is a darker side to self-confidence and opportunity recognition as well. It is said that three out of four startups fail – often due to overconfidence and the sweet high of optimism. Therefore, the ability of restricting themselves is also important to be successful entrepreneurs.


Some researchers claim that entrepreneurship is an inborn characteristic which cannot be developed. I disagree – based on my research, entrepreneurship can indeed be trained and anyone has potential to be an entrepreneur. For traditional companies which are struggling with fostering innovation, this potential inherent in every one of their employees is a chance to create a bustling crowd of innovators.


It takes time to ‘learn’ this entrepreneurial mind-set, but if leaders can provide an organisational culture that encourages their employees to think and act like entrepreneurs, they might very well be able to have the best of both worlds – the strength of giant and the smart agility of dwarf.


To learn more about the entrepreneurial mindset and other details on Hisae’s research, please join us at the MA Innovation Management upcoming Degree Show, Exploiting Chaos: Innovation in the Making, from the 18-22 June.