Large, sluggish ships and small, agile boats both fish on the ever-changing waters of business life. There is a lot they could learn from each other, yet they often fail to take account even of their own strengths and weaknesses, which is a shame, because they could do much better together, explains Georgiu Achilles, Program Director of MSc in Business Analytics at CEU Business School.
Large ships, or large corporations, go out to the open water and cast their nets for the biggest catch of fish. In recent years, however, fishing has been getting difficult: fewer fish are caught and even they are increasingly hard to catch with the traditional methods. In the meantime, an abundance of small fishing vessels, start-ups, swarm in the quiet waters of sheltered bays near the shore. They do not cast nets hoping to catch something; instead, they furnish all crew members with fishing rods and baits designed to entice the selected fish to strike. As a result, sometimes the fish they catch is so large that they can hardly fit it into their boat.
Inevitably, there comes a moment when a startup is no longer a startup by definition: it becomes a medium-size business when it has around 100 employees. The management, however, still uses the very same methods as when the five good friends joined together to make their ground breaking dream come true. They expect everyone in the company to share their passion and work for the business day in, day out. With one hundred employees on board – it is no longer feasible. Large corporations also feel the need to change, to adopt some of the methods used by smaller businesses, but rarely do they go beyond scratching the surface.
Both of them should acquire the ‘wisdom’ of the other. The small ones should introduce structure within the organization to guarantee stability for long term operations and to ensure that the agreed strategy is pursued. The large ones, on the other hand, should embrace and encourage agile operations while retaining their structure. Agility does not mean that they should be making every effort to seek out new ways or new markets, but rather to enable the organization to adapt to external changes more rapidly. And that is a question of mentality, or mindset: agility should infiltrate the whole enterprise, from the lowest levels to top managers. Large companies may choose to attract small start-ups through tenders or incubation programs. Or smaller teams may work as “start-ups” within the organization. But in neither case should they be twisting the wheel hard to the left or right when they see somebody catch a fish nearby. They should maintain the course set in the strategy and keep scanning the horizon for new opportunities.