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Go small

When a large company that doesn’t have a culture of innovation decides to start something new, it often fails because it throws too much money and too many people at the initiative.

Lots of funding changes what success means. The product can’t start small and grow. It needs to win big, fast. If it’s not an immediate breakthrough, it’s a failure.

But innovative products aren’t built that way. Great products are discovered over time, not invented in a flash of brilliance.

The product loses cohesion.

In the early days of a product, you’re still figuring out what you’re building. Strategy and plans shift rapidly. Big groups struggle with this. A big group needs extensive coordination and planning to align everyone’s work. It’s hard to spread new ideas and get everyone on board. So the rapid pace of change causes teams to drift. The organization stops working on common goals.

Large organizations need large amounts of coordination. They break in times of rapid change.

Things slow down.

In small groups, everyone knows the reason for a change in direction. They were probably involved in deciding to make the change. In large organizations, you need to practice change management to keep teams aligned. Without it, you’ll create frustration among those not involved in decisions. You can’t just make a decision and run with it.

Effective change management takes time. Every change takes longer to roll out. And because changes are more difficult, you’ll tend to avoid them. You’ll make fewer changes because they’re more difficult. The pace of innovation slows.

Small teams are more nimble than large teams. Early products must be nimble.

Culture suffers

When people form a new team, they develop customs and a culture that helps them all work together. There are unwritten rules that evolve. This can’t happen in a very large group.

But if you start with a small group, they’ll create these norms. Then as the group grows, new members will learn and adopt the culture.

Culture is the shared way that everyone behaves. It won’t emerge in a large group.

The product becomes boring

There’s a reason that design by committee is a pejorative term. Larger groups have more people to satisfy. Consensus gets harder to reach as more people get involved. Ideas can’t move as fast. The coordination and change management needs of a large organization result in specialization. When you’re only working on part of a product and not collaborating with other parts of the product, you make safer choices.

Effective innovation requires close contact and communication. People working closely and sharing ideas. Fast iteration loops. Low coordination overhead. Without those things, innovation suffers. Uniqueness takes a backseat. You build the obvious thing instead of the interesting thing.

The strengths of a large organization are the opposite of what makes innovation work. Starting something new requires that you start with a small team.

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