Occasional ramblings: Work, leisure, heart and lungs.

30 April 2015

Posted by Mark 8 years ago


Injecting start-up energy and rebel-thinking into your business

It only takes one rebel

Every great business started with one, maybe two rebels; and a good idea. You look at the world and knew that your ‘thing’ is better, more original, more exciting than everyone else’s. From that belief comes hunger and determination to turn it into reality. You’re a rebel, with a cause.

You’re focused on the ONE thing, nothing else matters. It’s simple, it’s exciting, and it’s scary as hell. There’s no backup plan, it’s all or nothing, you’ve got to make it work. With that you start to attract other people; drawn to your cause and infected by your passion They want a bit of that energy, they want to create something special too, they can see a better way. You’ve built an obsessed little tribe taking on the world.

The Lever brothers came across and invested in a brilliant new soap-making process in 1855 that they knew would revolutionise the soap business. Two years later 450 tons of ‘Sunlight Soap’ was being made every week.

James Dyson knew his vacuum cleaner was lighter, more powerful, more efficient and better looking than anyone else’s. He’s now a case study for determination and innovation.

In 1996 Larry Page and Sergey Brin knew that the search engine they had developed at Stanford was vastly superior to anything else out there. A year later and plenty of huddled hours in a friend’s garage in Menlo Park, Google was born.

Building a tribe

That brilliant product gets serious traction, consumers and customers love it and before too long there’s a big business to run to support all of this incredible growth. You recruit clever people who know how to make your product or service even better and how get it to more people. You have become a streamlined and efficient business with brilliant systems in place to keep your employees happy and you at the top of the tree.


The last thing you want is to disrupt what you’ve got, but that’s exactly what happens. A little start-up business with a small group of crazy guys and girls has just introduced something totally disruptive into the market that will eat your lunch.

So now you need to move fast. However, you’re not set up for disruption. You’ve grown too big and can’t shift quickly enough. The investors who’ve helped you grow are also afraid of what will happen if you stop growing. The strategy is set and cannibalising your own business model has volatile returns so they nudge you towards the safe route. Towards the defensive. Towards shoring up your position and denying advance. You’ve become a dinosaur. Then too late, you desperately react.

Now more than ever you need that early rebel spirit, passion and freedom to take risks that you had when you started out. But the way you are set up makes that hard. And guess who created that new disruptive product in the market, called Spotify or ZipCar that's flying off the shelves at your expense? Yep, it’s one of your brightest former employees who had a disruptive idea but got fed up not being able to launch it.

It’s time to rethink how you innovate.

In the 2013 GE Global Innovation Barometer a startling 50% of US executives surveyed believed that a new innovation model is needed in order to accelerate the rate of introduction of market-changing ideas. We’d say approach rather than model. Models are only as good as the people using them.

Outsourcing your innovation to an agency or a ‘skunk works’ partner can often be successful in the short term, but often doesn’t do much to increase your own innovation capability, or harness the creative might of your own people. You might get a cracking product, but the more you rely on them, the less powerful you become.

We need a way of making sure all that rebellious energy, insight, and technology work their way back into the business. It’s not a new model that’s needed. It’s a whole new way of thinking.

Smaller, naughtier, more disruptive

So, how do you create pockets of risk in an organisation set up to minimise it?

We believe that the answer lies in creating semi-autonomous teams with a start-up mindset and a mandate for disruption, which sit on the edge of the organisation.

We call them Rebel Cells.

The question we hear most from our clients is “how do we think like a start-up?” It’s easy. We create a start-up internally. We create the right conditions for side projects to grow. We remove the cultural barriers to doing things differently. We believe that small is beautiful; that passion matters, that you already have great people but you’ve “managed” passion, risk and hunger out of them. We super-charge the people that you’ve already got.

Richard Branson understood the hunger and determination of the start up mentality. He grew Virgin Records by splitting the business into smaller ones when it grew too big. By the time they were sold to EMI they were a collection of independent labels.

Rebel Cells recreate that passion, determination and hunger. We work with you to create semi-autonomous cells that sit within your business but that are encouraged, compelled even, to look outside and to think differently. We don’t want bad doing a bit better. We want astonishing. The cells comprise of internal staff and us. We train the staff. They unlearn conformity and learn to embrace risk. They have small budgets and big ideas. We instil urgency, a sense of pace and a drive into the process. We encourage risk taking. You give a licence to disrupt.

We establish small teams and work up audacious briefs. We train the leaders and we add in innovation tools as and when they’re required. We find that 85% of the output is due to the people and only 15% down to the tool.

We encourage accelerated failure, simple prototyping, test runs, and observation. In fact observation, observation, observation. Understand by watching.

Our Rebel Cell approach sees the development of a start-up powered by a big company, with endorsement right from the top. The challenge is making sure the team work well, take enough risks, and think differently. We have over 20 years experience of leading organisations towards innovation and creativity. We’ve worked with companies including Unilever, GAP, Samsung, Nike, P&G, Mars, Costa, Amazon, Arsenal FC and Lego. We know the problems that large businesses face. We know how to fix them. Small is beautiful. Large is powerful. Rebel Cell is the best of both worlds.

By Mark Shayler and Tim Frost

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