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Performance + Productivity
Contributor: Matt Meakins
Five ways lean startups change everything for corporate innovation

What makes lean startups different? They're powered primarily by ideas – not money. And they don't just respond to market change – they lead the change.

Unfortunately, innovation is often inversely proportional to the size of the company, and there are many stories of large corporations being outmanoeuvred by smarter, more agile competitors.

Here are five ways to keep your company creative and responsive as it grows, inspired by a lean startup culture.

1. Never stop innovating

Thomas Edison famously quipped: “'I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”

That's a pretty extreme case, but innovation from experimentation really can work for bigger companies. A good example is Google's 20 per cent time initiative, which gave birth to its flagship products Gmail and AdSense. Software company Atlassian did something similar. Founded in 2002, its market value recently broke beyond US$5 billion.

2. Always be testing

Lean startups are hyper-focused on their target market. Rather than unveiling a product at the end of its development, they get the user involved as early as possible. It's 'fail fast, fail smart' in action.

As startup guru Eric Reis puts it, the right question is not “Can this product be built?” but rather “Should it be built?” He recommends applying the build-measure-learn approach to every stage of product development – not just the start and finish.

A famous example is Facebook, which started out as a way for university students to connect on campus, and has gone through countless tweaks since.

3. Remove the barriers

Google's free food for its employees isn't just a clever ploy to keep people working longer hours – it's also about improving levels of cross-team collaboration.

Free food isn't mandatory, but strong collaboration is a key success factor in startup culture, and worth striving towards.

4. Stay true to your vision

History is littered with products that flopped because the company lost sight of customer wants. Think Crystal Pepsi – or, even worse, New Coke.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey described the problem as follows: “We have all these inputs, we have all these places that we could go – all these things that we could do – but we need to present one cohesive story to the world.”

He compares running a company to being a book editor. Think of your vision as the publisher pitch, and only run with the ideas that fit within it.

5. Match the surroundings with the task

Mobile devices have made it easier for people to work wherever they can be most effective. Whether it's a distraction-free hideout or an open area where ideas can be exchanged and discussed, giving employees greater choice over their surroundings can be a powerful way to play to their strengths and nurture their creativity.

With companies under greater pressure to cut costs and accelerate time to market, applying lean startup principles to your business can be the best way to assure its long-term growth and survival.

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