Blog – Esther Gons: The first steps of transforming into a truly innovative company

Esther Gons is Founding Partner of NEXT Amsterdam and has over 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur. She co-founded Fast Moving Targets, developed the HvA entrepreneurship course, is an international speaker, organised the first StartupBus Europe tour in 2011 and has acted as the lead lean startup mentor at Rockstart Accelerator for the past 6 years. Esther has mentored over 100 startups so far and still acts as an advisor to many of them.

As a visual spatial thinker she contributed to bringing the Lean Startup movement to the Netherlands. Esther is also co-author of The Corporate Startup book, which has just won the 2018 Management Book Of The Year Award for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. This is her very first blog on our website.

“Let’s face it, we all want to be that innovative company with a bright future. A lot of corporates are
trying to incorporate innovation as an important part of their strategy. But what does that really
mean if nothing but a catchy one-liner.

Understandably it is hard to transform into a truly innovative company as a whole. Often the word
innovation is associated with more than one thing. Transformation for instance as well as
digitization are often interchangeably used with innovation. Transformation will help the
organisation to be future proof in the longer term. It will help if you build a process or ecosystem
where innovation can take place and a culture to support this way of working and thinking. And
while transforming your company will make innovation easier, it is also possible to start with, or
focus on, innovation without transformation.

Steve Blank distinguished ‘searching’ and ‘executing’ as the key differences between startups
and large companies. Large companies are optimised to execute on a business model in order to
grow revenue. All of their core processes and resources have been shaped around this.
Innovation however, whether within startups or a corporate, is centred around the search of a
sustainable business model. The rhythm of innovation and the processes needed to support this
are so different from those build around execution that they will inevitably clash.

The biggest challenge of corporates that want to be innovative therefore is how to fit this new
rhythm and the mindset that supports innovation into the existing business processes, structures
and KPI’s all optimised on growth and ROI. It is possible to start with focusing on innovation
within your company at any point, but it will only be sustainable if this is supported by
transforming into an ecosystem where both core processes and innovation cycles have a place.

What are the most important things to look at when becoming a more innovative company?

Building an ecosystem for innovation entails that there is a repeatable process within the
organisation to take creative ideas and turn them into scalable business models. It means that
there is an innovation strategy that has mandate from the C-suite, an agreement on a way to
make investment decisions that fit the innovation cycles, measure progress and foster an
entrepreneurial mindset.

An innovative company fully understands that it is not possible to manage successful innovation
with the same tools and processes that it uses to manage their core products. It should therefore
develop separate, different processes to do this. Fully in sync with the iterative approach of
innovation. Helping intrapreneurs and innovators with a shared language and a clear framework.
Managing this process by asking the right questions in the different phases of the innovation

As such there should be at least one person in the board that understands that innovation needs
to be part of the overall strategy of the company and who has a dual skills set. Innovation leaders
need to have these dual skills for executing the current business and searching for new business
models. An ambidextrous leadership team will ensure that innovation hubs can be more than just
innovation theatre.

Just remember that iteration and perseverance is as much a motto for startups as it is for

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