What a 123 Year Old Company Can Teach Us About Innovation

photo credit: The Lean Startup Conference/Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin
photo credit: The Lean Startup Conference/Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin

It’s commonly known that most ventures fail within their first three years of operation. So when we look at a company like GE that has been around for more than 123 years, we can’t help but wonder what’s happening behind the scenes.

It seems odd to think of the 8th biggest company in the world as innovative when there are 14-year-olds creating artificial intelligence technologies in their basements, and twenty-something geniuses like Danielle Fong are figuring out new ways to store energy (awesome, huh?).

If there’s one thing that we’ve learned as Lean Startup practitioners, it’s that we need to challenge our assumptions and look beyond our initial gut reactions. GE has been around for 123 years because it has adapted to continuously changing markets as part of its core business. Innovation might not take the same shape or form of a Silicon Valley Startup—but that’s because larger organizations face completely different types of constraints. And companies like GE in particular have thousands of people to mobilize and rely on heavy research and development processes.

GE has been a core presence at The Lean Startup Conference since the earliest days of the Lean Startup movement. We’ve invited them back, year after year, to learn more about what they’re up to and follow the company’s progress over the long-term.

As a preview to GE’s session this November, Lean Startup Co. hosted a webcast with GE’s head of Global Research Mark Little, Eric Ries, and Lean Healthcare expert Mark Graban as a moderator, to answer a question that our community often asks: “What makes big companies like GE innovative?”

Watch a recap of our webcast to learn more:

The Story Through the Lens of GE’s Mark Little:

  • “In a turbine design project in our oil and gas business which has normally a three-year cycle, we decided to do some things in a parallel rather than serial pathway. That meant we had to build up some extra inventory which we loathe to do. But the result of that was much better speed to market.”
  • “What we’ve recognized is we need to get learnings from our customers as fast as possible. In thinking through the whole concept of minimum viable products, we decided to adapt an existing product and bring it to market early. But the miraculous thing is, we actually got about $50 million worth of business for that minimum viable product that we never expected to get.”
  • “The notion that we can learn and get better by the learning as opposed to defending the PowerPoint charts that predict the future that’s really unknown is a powerful thing for us. It’s really shifted the way we think to wanting to get that learning as fast as we possibly can with MVPs across virtually everything we do.”
  • “The FDA regulatory environment is a really good place to focus this on. We cannot in any way avoid getting regulatory approval on things, but what we can do faster is get the steps in place before we get to the regulatory approval to make sure that when we get there we not only have a device that’s high quality and reliable performance, but is suitable to the market. So it’s the preceding process that really matters.”

Intrigued? Bring your questions to the 2015 Lean Startup Conference where Director of GE Global Research Mark Little, GE’s Culture Leader Janice Sempler, GM and CTO of Hybrid Fuel Cells Johanna Wellington, will offer their perspectives. Learn more about the conference here

This post was written by Ritika Puri, resident storyteller at The Lean Startup Conference.

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