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Take a close look at the structural differences between startups—and just about everyone else. Startups, which rely upon being quicker and more innovative than legacy organizations, have flatter hierarchies, more cross-team collaboration, rely heavily on customer feedback, and iteratively create value for their customers. Successful startups are forged in the new dynamism of the digital economy, their new ways of working should be a model for everyone else.

What the digital economy demands above all else is agility. For the past twenty years and likely for the next twenty years, the path of technology and business has been and will be unpredictable. It is very hard to forecast how new technologies will affect customer behavior, strategy, security, etc. Every company and organization must begin to transition into a more adaptive and agile version of itself, restructuring into an organization that thrives on continuous change. This is the real lesson of startups, they have designed themselves to be well suited to handle constant disruption.

So, what does this mean in practical terms? What have startups done that every organization should start to mirror? The leveling of hierarchies and the promotion of cross-team collaboration is a great first step. Digital innovation and vision relies upon creative abrasion developed in environments with contrasting skills and styles of thinking. Innovation is neither individualistic nor hierarchical. Another essential step is using customer centricity as your north star. That is to say, strategy and innovation must be geared around real and evolving customer needs. Every organization should have a system of consistent customer feedback helping to guide product development, strategy, marketing, etc. Staying close to your customers is the best way to innovate and seize upon growth opportunities.

Project management, the means by which things actually get done, is also a major issue in digital business. The waterfall-style, multi-year initiatives of yesterday are often doomed to fail in today’s digital economy; their goals have much less value after two to three years of marketplace shift. The digital economy has made time to value an essential metric in project management. Born from software development, Agile project management techniques are the solution. The techniques offer iterative value add, constant diffusion of information up and down corporate hierarchies, and the ability to consistently adjust the end goal of projects based upon new or acquired information. It’s a technique born from digital innovation and therefore better suited for the digital economy.

All and all, many companies and organizations face a tough challenge to transform themselves into robust digital competitors. Many successful startups have evolutionary and structural advantages, so it is easy to see why they are transforming the global economy. Every organization should be learning from the new ways in which startups structure themselves. Survival in the digital economy relies upon it.

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