Innovation: Learnings from the Big Boys

Innovation: Learnings from the Big Boys 

Thought Leadership

By Madhurjya Kotoky, Brand & Marketing Advisor

In today’s fast-paced business environment, innovation is crucial for any organisation to succeed. Yet, startups, many of which have successfully disrupted categories, industries, and services, are often considered innovation’s poster children. Known for their creative and disruptive nature, startups focus on agile experimentation, lean methodologies, and a culture encouraging risk-taking. Driven by an entrepreneurial spirit, they operate in an environment of uncertainty, continuously challenging the status quo and creating new market niches. 

However, large organisations can drive innovation too, as Forbes’ World’s Most Innovative Companies list shows, featuring a sizeable number of large corporations with a storied legacy – the likes of Apple, NVIDIA, Google X, IBM Watson, and Microsoft. Innovation, therefore, is not determined by the size of an organisation; rather, it is the result of a complex interplay of factors such as leadership, culture, strategic planning, and execution. 

Portfolio Approach

Leveraging their resource advantage, large corporations can manage portfolios of diverse innovation projects, thereby balancing risk and reward while contributing to a thriving innovation culture. Apple and Google, for example, allocate a significant portion of their budget towards research and development. In 2023, Apple spent a whopping $18.75 billion on R&D, which has allowed them to explore innovative technologies like augmented reality and autonomous vehicles. 

In addition, as per McKinsey’s research, large corporations possess an established infrastructure to scale innovations quickly. Amazon, for example, used its robust logistics network to roll out innovations like Prime Now and Amazon Go, revolutionising retail and delivery.

Long-Term Vision

According to research conducted by Boston Consulting Group, having a long-term vision is crucial for innovation. Large companies usually adopt ambitious mission statements that aim to promote innovation at a societal level with global impact. They are quick to take on big challenges and invest in the long run, attracting talent and reinforcing their innovation culture. Tesla, for example, aligns their innovation efforts with sustainability goals and long-term growth strategies. Their vision for electric vehicles and renewable energy highlights the importance of connecting innovation with a broader narrative. Similarly, Google X focuses on addressing significant global challenges such as the energy transition, healthcare, and climate change. 

Risk Mitigation Strategies

According to Harvard Business Review, large companies employ sophisticated risk mitigation strategies to reduce the likelihood of innovation failure, which helps them manage uncertainties and complexity effectively, balancing innovation with stability and long-term growth. For instance, Procter & Gamble conducts extensive market research and consumer testing before launching new products. 

Large companies also implement structured innovation processes, with 54% of them having set up dedicated innovation departments or units according to a survey by PwC, indicating a systematic approach to fostering innovation within organisational frameworks.

Diverse Expertise & Strategic Partnerships

According to Deloitte’s research, large corporations benefit greatly from having a diverse pool of talent, which helps promote innovation through interdisciplinary collaboration. Companies like IBM have embraced this idea of diversity and have successfully leveraged expertise from different fields to develop solutions such as Watson AI. 

In addition, big companies often rely on strategic partnerships and acquisitions to enhance their innovation competencies. For example, Google’s acquisition of DeepMind in 2014 helped boost its artificial intelligence expertise, leading to significant advancements in machine learning and healthcare. Similarly, Microsoft’s 49% stake in OpenAI now allows the company to integrate its products with artificial intelligence capabilities.

Role of Culture

Fostering a culture of innovation and building a work environment conducive to innovation is the responsibility of the organisation’s leadership – and, interestingly, the organisation’s size is irrelevant in that regard. 3M is a great example of such a company, consciously encouraging creativity and idea development from everyone, not just the R&D division. It also designs its internal people systems and processes in a way that fosters innovation. 3M averages 3,000 new patents every year, making it a leading serial innovator among companies of any size and scale.

While large companies approach innovation differently from startups, both have their own advantages and challenges and both play vital roles in advancing progress and shaping the future of business. Startups excel in speed and agility but can struggle to scale; large companies have the resources to scale but can be slower. Startups embrace risk-taking and experimentation; large companies implement risk mitigation strategies to balance innovation with stability and long-term growth. Startups disrupt industries with groundbreaking ideas and technologies; large companies focus on managing disruption by investing in research, strategic partnerships, and digital transformation initiatives to stay ahead of the curve.

By recognizing the distinct strengths and challenges of each model, organisations can navigate the complexities of innovation and flourish in an ever-changing marketplace.

About the author: Madhur is a seasoned marketing communications leader across various sectors, including B2B Tech (SaaS, digital transformation, cloud computing, automation), Sustainability/ESG, and Design and Engineering Industries. With a background in international agencies, Madhur has managed high-value global brands including Canon, ArcelorMittal, Honda, Cargill, Discovery Networks, UNICEF, World Bank, and Hay Group. More recently, he successfully led Autodesk’s brand transformation efforts in the EEMEA region.

Specialising in brand strategy, integrated marketing, digital advertising and PR, Madhur employs a data-driven and strategic approach to drive tangible business outcomes. He thrives in global multicultural environments, having lived, worked, or studied in international hubs such as Dubai, New York City, Bangalore, New Delhi, Doha, Paris, Frankfurt, and Riyadh. 

He is an alumnus of HEC Paris and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University, New York, and is a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, UK with MCIM status.

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