Can innovation survive when companies grow?

Living in the world of high tech means, at least to me, that we play by a different set of rules. Many tech companies are seen as innovative, strategic and forward-thinking, while others are clumsy, slow and reactionary. I started thinking about this issue after I read a recent Op Ed in the New York Times written by former Microsoft executive Dick Brass. In this article Brass ripped Microsoft for not being terribly innovative and commented that part of the issue resides in the company’s corporate culture. It ruffled feathers so much that fellow Microsoft PR pro Frank Shaw posted a response on The Microsoft Blog defending the company.

Similarly, CNET recently took some shots about the engineering-driven culture at Google and questioned whether the company could tackle the growth of social media.

I took a step back to ponder this issue for a while. I’m not going to argue if Microsoft is innovative or if Google’s corporate culture might get in the way of improving its social media capabilities. Rather, what does this mean for the PR pros in the high tech world?

Start-ups generally get a few years to make good on their initial ideas. Engineering doesn’t simply happen overnight. Start-ups seem to gain acceptance early on, probably because their ideas sound interesting and people are always willing to support the underdog. But Microsoft was young once and yet now, some 35 years later, they are mocked for their lack of innovation.

“But part of the problem is communication: the term “innovation” largely has lost its meaning and has become a buzzword for big companies to use whenever they want to sound competitive and forward-thinking.” Gregory T. Huang, Xconomy

The more I thought about these issues, the more I realized that this has to do with brand. When a company is young it is energetic, full of ideas and many times referred to as “innovative”. As the company builds a strong brand reputation over time, it’s important to remain true to its principles. Your company cannot rest on its laurels as Microsoft appears to have done, for example in the mobile space as my colleague Brian Edwards pointed out recently. Create new things, share unusual ideas and push the limits so that you won’t be accused of being a sell-out.

Savvy PR agencies understand how the bell curve works: young companies are innovative and entrepreneurial, as they get older innovation slows down and they typically become complacent (sort of like Microsoft with the Windows and Office monopoly) and can grind to a halt due to red tape and internal politics and then they can slide in a downward spiral as more nimble competitors race by.

So, have Microsoft and Google sold out? Is innovation dead at the large high tech players? Are game-changing ideas only going to come from the small, nimble start-ups? Creative, enthusiastic and aggressive PR pros know how to help companies stay the course and continue to build trust in their brand throughout every stage of a company’s growth and maturity curve.

Rob Goodman

Author: Rob Goodman

Rob Goodman is a communications professional with more than 27 years of experience in public relations, marketing and content creation.