Making the Big White Elephant Dance
Start-ups are nimble, yet fragile, while larger companies have a strong foundation but are rigid. Seems like the perfect match; each entities’ weakness is the others’ strength. The Big White Elephant will dance, but only, if we all dance together.
How often have you got the feeling what use is xyz, say an air conditioner to me, if I live in Antarctica? Or, what use is an air purifier to me if I live in the hills or a town where electricity cuts are the dominant norm?
Right from the outset of my career, I have always been a firm believer in the fact that breakthrough ideas that effect our lives and in that sense become good business ideas can only come about if they are based on a very strong existing or latent need. If not, they are in a sense as good as pouring water off a duck’s back.
Way back in the nineties, when the Indian economy first opened up, the main question was has the great big Indian Elephant begun to dance? Almost a decade later, when I was just finishing my post-graduation, the question changed slightly and drew in a comparison to the roaring economy of China. How can we get the Great Big Indian Elephant to roar like the Chinese Dragon?
The start-up universe and its relationship to the larger companies is something like that. The larger companies could be compared with the Great Big Indian Elephant, and the start-up economy could very loosely be compared to the Chinese Dragon. Over the years, I have come to strongly believe that start-up is not a form or a company, but a mentality that is absolutely essential in today’s day and age.
The start-up mentality to me means agility, sharpness, and most importantly, an approach that is consumer first. It draws from the fact that the outlook of today no longer can be that of a push economy, but has to be centered on a pull economy. Having said that, one may argue that it’s the same people that drive these large companies, and these companies could not have become so large if they were not based on a very strong consumer need. True, but what we do forget is the fact that in the process of becoming big and managing growth most of them have not only become regimental, but also vertical in their structure. Organizational studies have told us that this change not only stifles the environment for breakthrough ideas but also brings in what we call corporate arrogance, and more often than not, a slow but sure disconnect with the market.
Place this in our current market scenario where technology is not just disrupting every single walk of life but has also created a complete shift towards consumer choice. If you do not understand the consumer today, they will just not understand you. Start-ups by and large have understood this phenomenon and are structured to be more responsive towards this rapidly changing dynamic, and thus, have emerged as the ideal ground for breakthrough ideas and disruption.
My submission, thus, is that if the conventional big companies of today want to survive the next decade, they have only two options:
a) Change their entire ecosystem, especially the way they think and structure, to fall in line with start-ups and start-up mentality, or
b) Collaborate with and in many ways become a big brother and/or aggregator for these start-ups
Change and Collaboration are not two rules, but need to work in cohesion with each other. The Big White Elephants understand collaboration, while The Chinese Dragons understand change. Imagine the possibilities if both of them can live harmoniously, and feed off of each other to grow. Start-ups are nimble, yet fragile, while larger companies have a strong foundation but are rigid. Seems like the perfect match; each entities’ weakness is the others’ strength. The Big White Elephant will dance, but only, if we all dance together.
The author is the Founder & Chairman of NDRConsult Private Limited, a boutique strategy & consulting firm focused on working with emerging brands to create disruptive transformations
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house
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