Chris Celletti
Tech / Innovation
How Partnerships Help Unleash Innovation

All companies want to succeed and make a difference. Big, established companies think they have the history, trust, and scale to do so. Small, young companies think their agility, fresh perspective and speed is what does the job.

Of course, there’s no perfect answer. Big companies do lots of things well, as do small companies. As the new book from former Proctor and Gamble CMO Jim Stengel “Unleashing the Innovators” shows, companies both big and small have a lot to learn from each other and can help drive success by entering into partnerships with one another. For the established companies, the insights gained can help rejuvenate

For the book, Stengel and co-author Tom Post conducted an exhaustive qualitative research project, conducting hours upon hours of interviews with folks across the business landscape, either big “Centurion” companies (those who are 100 years or older) or startups who have been operating for 5 years or less. That qualitative project was also backed up by a quantitative study done by OgilvyRED of 201 companies, gathering data on why each company entered into a partnership with one on the opposite side of the spectrum, and how the companies benefited from the partnerships.

Jim Stengel at a book launch event on Monday, October 2 at Ogilvy New York


One of the main reasons centurion companies partnered with startups is obvious: technology. It can be difficult for a big, established company to integrate a new technology into its business, so finding a young partner to help seems like a no-brainer. However, the data showed that what many centurion companies learned out of their partnership with a startup leaned toward the more fundamental: key insights on company culture and how to run the business on a day-to-day basis. After partnering with startups, 80% of centurion companies surveyed changed how they ran their business.

Stengel says the book acts a playbook of sorts both for startups and centurions who are looking to enter into a new partnership. What’s important for both entrants in a new partnership is to go in with the right mindset. If the partnership is about gaining a fundamental insight and not merely about acquiring a new technology or capability, the results can be lasting.

However, entering into a new partnership an easy thing to do. There is inherent friction in how legacy companies and startups operate, and butting heads is to be expected. But a shared goal of transforming for the better can ensure that both partners come out on the other side in a better position.

Said an executive from one of the centurion companies surveyed: “[Our partner] challenged our thinking and how we view ourselves. Sure, it is painful, but you have to transform in order to learn, grow, and be successful.”

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