Innovation and big companies

I watched an interesting video interview with Tim Weller of Incisive Media yesterday in which Tim explained one of his top priorities was returning the company to the innovative, risk-taking culture of its early years. I think most big companies spend a lot of time puzzling over how to increase agility and innovative spirt in their organisations, and most don’t really make much of a fist of it.

One reason, I believe, is that as companies grow complexity increases. In a start-up mode everybody does everything (more or less) but later specialisms emerge and so getting things done involve large groups of “experts”.They are already busy, so co-ordination becomes a real challenge and progress slows, a process Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, founders of 37 Signals, offer an antidote to in their book Rework.

Another reason is IT complexity; multiple systems are “upgraded” and added to over long periods of time so that integrating with them becomes a mammoth task, and doing so only increases the complexity and inter-dependency.

So is there a way to cut through this? I don’t really know, but I do believe that the recent developments of cloud computing which allow small pieces loosely joined but running on other people’s infrastructure do offer real hope here. If you are renting computing cycle time and storage from Amazon for a few dollars, it is much more easy to imagine lots more innovative small projects getting off the ground outside of the corporate spaghetti. It is (relatively) easy for start-ups like 37 Signals to keep the agility and simplicity in their businesses – it’s much harder for corporates who have spent years building up complexity and the organistional structures which keep things complex.

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