Spring cleaning – what businesses of all sizes can learn from each other

Last month was the annual World Creativity and Innovation Week, a celebration of new ideas and new ways of working. I would argue that weeks such as this are no bad thing. They serve as a useful reminder to us all that we should pause from time to time to consider how we can be more creative and more innovative in business.

There are many ways to accomplish this, of course, but some stand out above others. I believe, for instance, that we would all gain from more interaction between big and small business. The truth is that each has a lot to learn from the other.

As I’ve often said, for a number of years it has been the small, agile players in the market who set the pace of innovation in the UK. Given that the pace at which the UK creates and adopts new technologies plays right into the hands of those businesses quickest to react, many have worried that big businesses are losing ground to their smaller counterparts.

My advice to them: if you can’t beat them, join them.

The shrewdest corporates are structuring themselves like a small business so that they can take advantage of the creativity of a start-up, capturing new ideas in their infancy and applying them to the wider business. For example, our own Wayra Academy harnesses the energy inherent in start-ups by providing funding, training and access to customers in exchange for first refusal on new technologies and ideas. O2 has also worked to create the best of both worlds by establishing an in-house start-up, The Lab, which operates free from many of the constraints of the rest of the business, giving it greater freedom to pursue new ideas.

Similarly, small businesses stand to gain from looking at the way big businesses handle the challenges that come with growth. Increasingly, Britain’s leading large enterprises are adopting smarter working practices to make it easier and more efficient for employees to work wherever they are, ultimately giving a big boost to productivity. From deploying 4G-enabled phones, tablets and laptops to ensuring critical business applications – whether word processing and email or sales systems and databases – live in the cloud instead of the office, we know that cost-effective technologies can ease the burden of size.

Mobile and flexible working means that a physical office may not be as crucial as we typically think, and taking a smaller space will generate savings that can be put back into the business. Moreover, building smarter working practices into the heart of a business when it’s small will ease the growing pains that may well come later.

So let the lesson of World Creativity and Innovation Week be that businesses of every size have a lot to learn from their larger and smaller counterparts. Those that can take advantage of this opportunity have everything to gain. Those that don’t risk no less than being left behind.

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