Too big too fail and too unwound to react: why resilience is key for corporate survival

Ever sat at a dinner table where you don’t speak the language most of the other guests do? It’s quite the experience. In most countries the polite thing to do is to switch to English or another common language, in practical terms everybody hopefully looks for a common ground to communicate more effectively — even though this means that the level of overall understanding will fluctuate heavily.

For you this means to keep pushing regardless of your vulnerable and instable position with a smile, you fight your inner impulse to disconnect (and even leave) and try to keep engaged with everyone and to calm your frustration and to find a way to do the best of a bad set of cards. You’re engaged to learn by trial and error but never give up until you find success — in brief this is what resilience is!

If you ever lived in a foreign country, you’ve probably had to expose yourself to such an unforeseen incident, and you know that, at some point, after several dinners, you start breaking the wall and finally get to understand what’s going on. And one day, without you even knowing exactly how, you are able to contribute a few comments. Next thing you know, you just speak the language.

Back to school: Corporate Culture

Something similar is happening to big corporations nowadays. After decades of ruling their empires and dominating the conversation with their language, new ones keep popping up and it’s time for them to go on and to have dinners with the new players speaking a language they don’t fully understand. Sitting through all these conversations and changes doesn’t make for a pretty picture, and way out of their comfort zone, there only seems to be despair.

Learning a new language is way more than only getting to know the vocabulary, briefly learning the grammar and writing one or two essays a year — it is about actively engaging. Digitalisation is not about getting to know how to use the newest digital tools (vocabulary) or giving all your employees a tablet or smartphone (grammar) and buying some fancy software (essays), it is about trial and error. About establishing a culture that allows to experiment without direct permission.

That’s why I think just the companies who have enabled teams to openly learn and develop their own culture based on resilience will be able to make it to the other side of digitalisation. Because only the ones who push through all these exciting changes stand a chance to pick up the new digital and innovation languages and keep thriving.

Corporations, as big and diverse as they are, are fundamentally made of the same building blocks as the tiniest startup: people. This means that only the companies who “live” a sense of adaptability, encourage constant learning, support employee autonomy and a risk-taking culture as well as give room for mistakes will withstand disruption in the future.

Ask yourself

  • Is your company helping its employees to grow their capacity to confront change?
  • Does your organisation support diversity?
  • Does it help its employees perform under stress and to recharge their battery-power?
  • Do you in your team try new things and thus strengthen everybody in an innovation process?

Does this sound closer to the startup mindset than to the established big corporate way of doing things?

Yes, no problem — no need to worry: again, we’re all working with people here!

Startups: They don’t have another option

It’s not that startups know better, it is just startups have no other choice. For small teams, there is no other option than to make mistakes and learn from them, push through all the storms and hit a jackpot or die within a very short span. The name of the “10% survival rate game” is resilience.

But for corporates, this process can take decades. The alarms don’t ring fast enough, they feel too big to fail when actually they are too slow to react. HBR surveyed executives at nearly 500 companies reporting $1B+ in annual revenue and 88% of them consider that their organisation is experiencing disruption. But only 37% consider that their organisation is successfully promoting resilience, and only 41% are confident that their organisation can absorb the challenge.

Resarch by HBR and northhighland — Building Resilience From Disruption

End result: everyone supports building an enterprise-wide culture of resilience but nobody executes it over time. The sad story is that the actual problem is rooted way deeper than just understanding that resilience is needed or that it should be enabled. Coming back to startups and their more or less choice-less life — resilience and their agility is a result of the fear of failure and the joy and reward of experimentation.

Soft-skills drive ROI for corporates

For corporates in many cases though, the main problem is that leaders aren’t aware or don’t want to admit that disruption is a real thread — they want to believe that it won’t strike the company and the team on their watch. So they don’t invest in resilience, since it’s a long term and “soft-skill” bet. But those who’ve been through extreme market and technology changes wouldn’t question the competitive edge that resilience provides. You want to cultivate a culture where your team thrives through change and challenges, to help them crack the new languages.

Corporations need to realise that change is inevitable and there’s nothing to fear — it’s how they themselves came into existence. With ever faster evolving technologies, disruption can be only one corner away, no matter how big they are, thus innovation and invention has to become the focus area of any employee. And in order to create teams that breathe innovation, corporations need to become resilient and foster an innovative organizational culture, today.

The same way you decide to pick a language today and keep pushing every single day until achieving the reward in the future, resilience starts now.

I’m part of the team and we are experts with startup and corporate expertise, offering “Innovation as a Service” and building start-up companies with your organisation in 100 days. Let us help you to learn the language!

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Our musings on digital innovation trends in Germany and around the world.

Philipp Loringhoven

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Finding a new path to follow


Our musings on digital innovation trends in Germany and around the world.