Have you held on to your startup DNA?

start up image

Think Google and Amazon and you think innovation. You think incredible products. You think of good, solid experiences. But I think there is a far stronger lesson to carry forward from these orgs. It is their agility. It is the sense of fun and unpredictability. It is the ability to innovate not once or twice but on a continuous ongoing basis. And it has managed to hold on to all of these attributes over the years. What I call the start-up DNA. As a startup you are constantly innovating, improvising, creating. You are light on processes but still amazingly cohesive held together by great team-spirit and camaredrie. Your office is a fun place despite all the tension of where the next day’s working capital will come from. And then you sign on your first client. And the next. You move out of the garage into a nice building with glass-fronts. Your team size increases. You put strong processes in place. Which is all great except that somehow all the trappings seem to kill what made you great and extraordinary in the first place. The culture of agility, of fun, of fluidity. The culture that triggers original thought and clutter-breaking innovation. So you start living off your legacy, milking the cash cows instead of innovating. You eschew the risk. But sooner or later the risk comes up. Because in a fast-changing world the only talisman against risk is innovation. Constant, lean and agile innovations. Which is only possible when you retain that cultural cauldron that made that possible in the first place. The start-up DNA.

The start-up DNA also is critical to innovation because it retains the other important lever – the employee morale. It is surprising but true that employee morales are highest in a startup even though resources are low and uncertainties are high. Possibly because it is a smaller group, everyone has ownerships. Everyone is motivated to make things work. The company and individual goal alignment is at the highest. As companies become larger, the individual shrinks in scale unless employees just become numbers and name tags. Unless the employee no longer identifies with the organization. A sure innovation killer. A less than motivated employee will not innovate for you. The only way you can keep his chin up is by keeping the entrepreneurial spirit alive. In everyone. Make everyone feel like an owner. Tough in large orgs. But if a Zappos or an Amazon or a Google can do it, it is not impossible.



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