Thanks to a tip from a colleague, I stumbled into my absolute favourite event of tech week this year – the Innovate Debate hosted by Pixel Fusion.
The moot: Startups are the key to corporate innovation.
The propostion team:
- Scott K Bishop, Chief Innovation Officer, Z Energy
- Sonya Crosby, Chief Innovation Officer, SkyCity
- Teresa Pollard, International Customer Advisor, NZTE
The opposition team:
- Lisa Miles-Heal, GM & CTO, Unleashed Software
- Paven Vyas, CEO, Rush Digital
- Hamish Nuttall, Chief Digital Officer, ThinkLazy (& founder Naked Bus)
(It is worth noting that the teams were randomly assigned, as with any debate, the team they were on does not necessarily reflect their own personal belief!)
For me, the mark of a great debate is a notable demonstration of intellectual agility, clear points, witty remarks and just the right amount of heat. This event certainly delivered!
The positive relationships across the innovation ecosystem were evident with just enough knowledge and respect amongst the speakers to fire shots without getting too personal. The broad range of experiences led to a truly informed commentary and all speakers managed to strike the balance between making their own argument and a spirited rebuttal. There were also a wealth of real life examples from right here in our own NZ Inc.
Opinion aside, the clear winner on the day was the opposition team, taking down the moot artfully with a laser like attack on it’s binary nature. Their argument was that whilst startups are part of the picture, there are many keys to corporate innovation. The first speaker laid the ground work for this argument by making the point that startups are not inherently innovative. Instead they are inventive with 9 out of 10 failing, over half of those due to lack of market need for their invention. Innovation is the art of creating value in a way that has not been achieved before, and so with the majority of staretups not delivering value, they are not by definition innovative. Whilst partnering with a successful startup can help drive innovation, the opposition team made the point that this is just one of many keys on the key ring in the corporate pocket.
The opposition argument was then developed by honing in on a factor that they felt had more impact on corporate innovation: leadership. Quite rightly, they made the case that without trust and safety instilled by “ambitious, authentic leadership,” innovation is doomed. If the leadership does not create a culture in which it is safe to fail, the team, no matter how talented, will not take the risks required to truly challenge the status quo. They added to this, the strength of having diverse teams. Without diversity of thought, the status quo reigns supreme.
The mic drop moment of the night went to the final speaker of the opposition team, who pointed out that middle aged folks who date hot young things, are made more cool or sexy by doing so. Ergo, ‘dating’ a startup is never going to make a corporate cool or sexy.
It should be noted that points were awarded to the proposition team for their description of the complimentary strengths and weaknesses of startups and corporates; startups needing capital, capability and connection, corporates needing innovation and agility. Each able to deliver what the other seeks. There were also some good points about partnering when it make sense to do so for the betterment of both, and winning together.
This debate was not only highly relevant for corporates, but also ex-startups, long past the search for a sustainable business model and very much in the midst of middle age. This is a complex stage where the essence of the startup culture still lives on, but the hurdles of a larger organisation begin to slow the cogs. By leveraging partnerships where it makes sense and promoting diversity and a ‘safe to fail’ culture, external innovation can be utilised as a part of an innovation portfolio, but not the only key.