Petr Beneš from 6D: Innovation is necessary in corporations. It just requires courage and the right people.

Even large companies these days are realizing that innovation is key to survival, it’s far from unique to the startup world. So why is it often so difficult to promote innovation in the corporate world? Is this something that can be changed? And what should someone who has decided to leave a corporation and transform their idea into a startup be prepared for? Petr Beneš, the co-founder of 6D and UP21 copilot, offers some insight.

Is it difficult - or even possible at all - to innovate in a corporation?

It’s definitely possible but at the same difficult. I think that it depends a lot on the company culture in the corporation — to what degree is it a culture of fear, a culture of “just don’t make a mistake.” In this kind of culture it’s pretty difficult. But if the  management in the corporation is enlightened and realizes that it is its role to support proactive people, then it’s possible to create an environment for innovation in the corporation.

If I work in a corporation and would like to innovate, but I run into obstacles — how should I try to bring up ideas in the corporate environment?

First off, I think that it’s important to have courage, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and informally meet up with leaders in the organization. Because it doesn’t always have to be the formal company hierarchy that facilitates innovation in a corporation. In every company there are a number of unofficial leaders who attract attention with their passion and zeal, and do it through informal groups, which are greatly facilitated by today’s technology. It’s easier to join different activities in which constant change is the new standard.

The important thing is to not be afraid to do things that make sense — the more people let go of the feeling that they’re only in work for the paycheck, the more they will want to go to work because they’re doing something meaningful, that they enjoy, and the better it will be for all of us.

Petr Beneš, Co-founder 6D & co-pilot UP21

Do you know any good examples of corporations which foster an environment for innovation? Is there any difference between Czech and foreign companies?

I have had the opportunity to work with a few foreign companies, such as General Electric and Google. Google these days is a large corporation which has still managed to preserve its high potential for innovation. They have something they call “googliness,” which is some kind of specific quality inside their company culture — an innovative mindset which is part of their DNA, and according to which they hire new people.

But there are also companies which were founded in a different time and are going through massive transformations today. I’d say that many car manufacturers are quite innovative, for example. When I look at companies that are part of Volkswagen, I see a lot of innovative potential there, in both design and technology.

And how about some companies from the Czech market?

I don’t know if I would name any company in particular, but I spent a long time in banking. And today, I have to say that even big banks are shaking things up, maybe because of the influence of some fintech companies or new banks, such as AirBank or Fio. But they’re going in the right direction.

When I was last working in České Spořitelna, some time around 2012 or 2013, we formed a team of digital “punks,” and started to open the bank and create something called an open banking platform. This brought in people who, if I had called them a year earlier, would have told me that they wouldn’t want to work in a bank. Thanks to what we had started to do there, it became an attractive position for them, and they approached the bank themselves.

So are you following any positive development in Czech Corporations in this direction? Are companies realizing that innovation is more important than ever before?

I think every company is already realizing this. As the saying goes, “innovate or die.” Innovation is important. This doesn’t mean, however, that it’s necessary to destroy something if it works. Rather, it’s good to think about the need to move in other directions, to break out of the box. For example, if I’m a bank and I just loan people money, I need to realize that banks today are also consultancies who should help develop their clients’ businesses, and not just provide financial services. This means a shift in how the people inside the bank will view it as a company.

What are the main reasons for corporations to give innovation the green light?

The main reason to innovate is not because the firm is asking for it, but because the market and the customers are — society moves things forwards. New needs arise that a firm needs to be able to react to. If they sleep on them, they can become irrelevant in a few years time. Innovation must be brought out by the demands of consumers, and not just by meeting their needs, but by creating new needs. We’re living at a time when change is occurring faster and faster, and it’s important to adapt to this reality.

If I run into obstacles in a corporation that I don’t want to overcome, and I’d rather take my idea and jump into the startup world — how do I get started?

In every situation in life, a person has three choices: either I want things to change and I change them, or for some reason I don’t want to change and I accept them, or neither of these works for me and I leave to do something different. And this applies here: it makes sense to try things in corporations, but when you get into a situation where you really want to innovate and it’s not working, then it’s worth taking a look elsewhere. Maybe at a startup.

It’s necessary to realize that both worlds have their own particularities. But I think these days they are intermingling and enriching one another. The days when corporations would say, “These startups don’t have a clue about the big business world,” are long gone. On the same note, startups no longer despise corporations or think that they’re “just” bureaucratized. Today the walls are breaking down, both sides know that they can benefit from each other. Startups bring enthusiasm and energy, but are sometimes unable to manage risk and think long-term, strategically. Corporations, on the other hand, are able to manage risk very well, but often get tied up in excessive internal protocols and become rigid and inflexible.

If someone wants to move from a corporation to a startup, they have to realize that they’re giving up their giving up their safety net to a certain degree. They might lose benefits they’re used to — but they gain genuineness, sincerity, enthusiasm, a strong feeling of co-ownership, and healthy energy. It’s up to everyone individually to consider each side. But I would definitely recommend everyone try it at some phase in their lives.

Is it for everyone? Or do I have to be a specific type of person to survive in the startup ecosystem?

It really depends on what roll you’ll be in. Not everyone can be an idea maker. It’s definitely not for everyone, just like not everyone can be an astronaut. But if you think about something and say to yourself, “I’d like to try that,” then I’d ignore the “what ifs” and just go for it.

What should I be prepared for if I’m founding a startup and don’t have any business experience?

I would recommend beginner entrepreneurs to do some networking in the startup community — our events here at UP21 are an excellent opportunity, for example, as we try to educate both entrepreneurs and outsiders who are interested. For people coming from a corporate environment, it’s an ideal chance to peek under the lid into how startups work.

In practical terms, it’s necessary to prepare for the fact that whatever I think might work in the morning might be completely different by the evening. The change is enormous, and it happens every day. You have to get an adrenaline rush from the hour-by-hour changes and make a habit of reacting effectively to challenges. Even though I don’t like the word “challenge,” it perfectly applies here — I don’t know what will happen this afternoon, but I’m going into it on my toes and ready to fight. That’s why a so-called “growth mindset” is important for people going into startups. As Carol Dweck writes in her famous book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, a growth mindset is a state in which a person views change as a new opportunity to move forward. Meanwhile, a person who has a so-called “fixed mindset” is scared of change, and is often unable to face it.

It is possible to change your mindset from a fixed to a growth mindset?

It is. I think that the question is self-awareness, expansion of your consciousness and determination to work on it. If I am determined and carefully pay attention how I respond to what kind of stimuli, I can eventually get rid of my fear of change.

Does a startup founder who left the corporate environment have any advantages that they can bring from that world to the startup world?

They have the advantage that they know how corporations work and have undoubtedly brought some useful contacts with them. They’re also at a different phase in their lives than someone who doesn’t have any corporate experience, maybe ten years apart, which means a certain career shift as well. Suffice it to say that every life experience is an advantage for us.

I’m hearing a lot about people who are running away from corporations to go to startups. But does it ever happen the other way?

I think that it happens, but that these people consider it a further professional challenge. They go to the company with the experience of having successfully developed some kind of startup, and so they can use their business experience to help a large company transform. There are many such examples in the world today.

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Petr Beneš, Co-founder 6D & Co-pilot v UP21. Pomáhá firmám přizpůsobovat jejich byznys model technologickým a sociálním změnám, které s sebou přináší digitalizace. Přes 20 let v banklovním sektoru od České republiky
po USA a Thajsko, kde otevíral banky na zelené louce. Posledních 10 let pracoval jako CIO bank GE Money a Česká spořitelna. Jako Co-pilot pomáhá v UP21 startupům přizpůsobovat jejich byznys model technologickým a sociálním změnám, které s sebou přináší digitalizace. 

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