I just read a pretty interesting article by Robert Scoble entitled “Why Google can’t build Instagram”. It centers on why big companies have trouble innovating. In this particular instance, the company is Google, which is somewhat vindicating to me for reasons I won’t get into now.
I have an ever increasing interest in both innovation practices and how large companies operate and found a lot of interesting theories related to both there-in. Allow me to paraphrase the important points:
- It’s difficult to innovate without small teams
- It’s difficult to innovate without reducing scope
- It’s difficult to innovate when you have lots of groupies
- It’s difficult to innovate with pre-established infrastructure
- It’s difficult to innovate if you have to support everyone from the get-go
- It’s difficult to innovate without leveraging the work of outside parties
- It’s difficult to innovate behind an iron curtain (although Apple seems to handle it well)
- It’s difficult to innovate without Eric Ries-style “lean methodology”
These is a direct translation of the 8 reasons that Google has trouble with innovation listed in the article (and I’d encourage you to read them if you haven’t already). There is some overlap and I don’t necessarily agree that Google can’t do some of them (particularly the last two), but I think the key idea present in all of these points is:
It’s difficult to innovate unless you can move quickly and flexibly.
As companies get larger, they tend to become more bloated with bureaucracy, process, and opinions, which naturally slows down innovation. Consequently, as mentioned in the article, it can come to the point where the only way for a large company to be “innovative” is to exert its power (and not it’s agility) by buying smaller companies or doing things that are prohibitively expensive/risky that could easily destroy a weaker company.
So the question to ask is, how can large companies continue to innovate?