Here is one more reason why startups innovate so much and create new categories time and again where the large enterprise guys do more of the same thing: Entrepreneurs spend most of their time looking outward, rather than looking and focusing on internal affairs.
Walk around University Ave. in Palo Alto, CA and you will get a sense of it. Entrepreneurs who work 20-hour days still find the time to meet other entrepreneurs, dorm friends or anybody else who can inspire them. Perhaps it has to do with the small premises of the typical startup, but they tend to get together in coffee shops, and not in meeting rooms. This is how they meet even more people.
They don’t need fancy programs like Intuit’s “follow me home” to visit their customers and spend real time listening and watching what the users do. Since they do not employ a VP of customer satisfaction or a de-escalation manager, they have to visit the customer themselves when something goes wrong. The hands-on experience teaches a lesson no written report or executive summary can provide.
One will ask: if they spend so much time looking out, how can they run a company? You see, they don’t. Not in the sense that large-enterprise people think they do. They employ a bunch of smart people, just like the larger companies, but with constant informal communication, they make sure everyone knows what the company is doing. They lead more like quarterbacks, leading while playing.
If you are an manager or executive in a large company, ask yourself how much time you spend outside your company’s boundaries. I don’t have a golden rule for that, but if a week passed and you did not have a single one on one meeting (speaking in events doesn’t count!) with a customer, a partner or a relevant entrepreneur, you must be doing something wrong. Take outfacing activities to everything you do, and make sure you (or your team) don’t handpick the comfortable customers and partners for you to meet. In addition, it would not hurt to join some relevant associations or groups in your area, so you can meet other people who are not brainwashed by your company strategy. Happy outgoing.
PS- I wrote this post before Seth Godin posted his note about Permeability but if you read both they actually talk about the same thing…