FT Innovate Conference: Big vs Small – which is better at innovating?

The 2015 theme of the FT Innovate event was ‘Big vs. Small: Which one is better’ and was held at Vinopolis near London Bridge, which is an imposing vaulted venue.


Being a conference about innovation meant the FT Innovate team weren’t afraid of mixing up the standard conference format. As well as the traditional speakers on stage, they encouraged maximum audience participation with a debate held in the centre of the audience where audience members became the speakers. A

nother highlight was the improvisation rapper who used items the audience provided (which included tic tacs and the less common handbag item, the hot water bottle!?!) to improvise a rap.


The two day event had a series of fantastic speakers from globally recognised brands covering a range of innovation based topics. Several messages came forward very strongly, these included the need for an organisation to have an innovation strategy, the need to give teams space to innovate and the need for different performance measures for innovation teams.



Rick Goings, CEO Tupperware: surprisingly inspiring story about how Tupperware has empowered women to become their own business owners across the globe. The Tupperware business model has evolved as they were impacted both by the increasing percent of women in work (70% by the 80’s vs 30% in the 50’s) and cheaper imitation products from rivals. Rick said “a business model is successful until it isn’t”. These challenges have required Tupperware to evolve and innovate. If you want to innovate, make your culture fast, focused and fun.

Looking forward, Tupperware have one eye on the evolving workforce with analysis of millennials behaviours and values being important to their future as 75% of the workforce will be millennials by 2025. Rick considers the number one responsibility of a company to be sustainability of the enterprise, not short term gain. He also said that ‘companies that are good, do good’ in reference to their approach to empowerment. Rick explained their approach has been to make it simple, make it consistent and make it scalable.


The audience strongly favoured the ability of small organisations to innovate over big companies.

Giuseppe Zocco, co-founder of Index Ventures and Michael Mandel, Chief Economic Strategist from the Progressive Policy Institute made the points that innovation needs big eco-systems i.e. innovation takes resources that small companies often don’t have access to. Collaboration between big and small companies can enable true innovation to take place. Big companies often innovate by buying small companies which are innovating and then pouring resources into it. Googles purchase of the Android operating system is a point in case.


David Storey’s study (1998) suggested small companies don’t innovate after their initial innovative launch.

To be innovative a company needs an innovation strategy AND an innovation culture. Apple and Tesla promote employees based on how they innovate, encouraging and reinforcing the value of innovation within their organisations. A command and control culture is at odds with an ecosystem innovation based culture – this is set by the CEO. A clear innovation strategy helps organisations create an innovation funnel which allows you to kill / support ideas with a clear reason. A channel approach can cause organisations to invest in too much.


Some corporates have corporate venture investment funds which gets them a seat at the table of innovation.


A focus on what the drives the customer mad will help your company innovate to solve for this. Encouraging an employee mindset that focuses on the customer not the competition is an advantage. Companies which are moving from a products focus to a UX focus will differentiate themselves. Having a single list of priorities for all departments helps unify an organisation.


Cross functional teams was the theme that came through on the second day.

Margaret Heffernan: Over time, employee minds become narrow, deep and rigid. Her research into what makes some teams so much better than others had some surprising results (hint – it’s not just about IQ):


1. The best teams scored highly on the human eye test connectedness

2. No single voice dominated and there was high participation from everyone

3. They had more women than men in them


Problem solving is social, it about what happens between people so by allowing for this, problem solving can be improved.


Margaret highlighted Ocean Spray as an innovative organisation where their environment helps ideas flow. They always ask:

  1. Does it work?
  2. Does it matter? (and can we scale it?)
  3. Can we win?


Finally some other insights included:

Bringing groups of customers into the office to meet the teams (which for some was the first time they had met their customers) gave invaluable insights and feedback.

Always tie innovations back to your business goals / strategy.

Just Giving avoid departmental silos by structuring cross functional teams around growth targets.


What insights can you share to help organisations become more innovative?

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