October 3, 2017

Any corporation can act like a startup, MHI speaker says

Linkner tells annual conference attendees to "judo-flip conventional wisdom."

By Ben Ames

Companies can overcome business challenges by acting like nimble startups even if they are actually large corporations, keynote speaker Josh Linkner told the Monday lunchtime crowd at the MHI Annual Conference in Boca Raton, Fla.

Leaders often face problems in budget, shipping, or distribution that look intractable, but can be overcome by highly creative solutions, said Linkner, who is a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Ferndale, Mich.-based consulting firm Fuel Leadership LLC.

The core mindsets of startup leaders include the ability to borrow ideas from other sectors, to see opportunities where others see restrictions, and to believe that every barrier can be penetrated, Linkner said in a session titled "Entrepreneurial Fire: think and act like a startup (even if you're not)."

Leaders who think like startups can "judo-flip conventional wisdom" and find unexpected solutions to common problems, he said. In contrast, companies that become fixated on problems instead of solutions will never make headway. "Always keep innovating, because deer in headlights die," Linkner said.

One example is Jessica Matthews, a Harvard University student who in 2008 designed a soccer ball that generates electricity as kids kick it, Linkner said. The "Soccket" product was a quick way to solve the problem of residents of rural communities who were often forced to use loud, polluting diesel generators when their electrical power failed, he said. Matthews soon went on to found a company called Uncharted Play Inc. that distributes the ball and related devices.

In another example, the Dutch bicycle manufacturer VanMoof found that its electric bicycles were frequently damaged during shipping. VanMoof executives realized that delicate television sets with similar dimensions were seldom broken in transit, Linkner said. Instead of investing in expensive new packaging standards or "white glove" delivery, the company simply printed a picture of a plasma TV set on their cardboard shipping boxes. Because drivers thought they were transporting fragile items, they were more careful in handling them. Incidents of damaged shipments soon plummeted, the company said.

Linkner said any company can achieve superior results by relying on the innate abilities of its employees. Because human creativity can't be outsourced or automated, it is one resource that can never be depleted, he said.

"All of us are creative; we're hard wired that way," said Linkner. "If we could embrace that creativity we had [as kids], we would become unstoppable."

About the Author

Ben Ames
Senior Editor
Ben Ames has spent 20 years as a journalist since starting out as a daily newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania in 1995. From 1999 forward, he has focused on business and technology reporting for a number of trade journals, beginning when he joined Design News and Modern Materials Handling magazines. Ames is author of the trail guide "Hiking Massachusetts" and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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