Large companies have always used their size and power to get things their way. This is no different with open innovation. So I am not surprised when I listen to people from smaller companies complain about the behaviours of large companies when they start working together.
Such behaviours were confirmed by several large companies at the recent Open Innovation Summit. They shared stories on how they had used their size and corporate power to get deals that favoured themselves and they even admitted that some deals could be so lop-sided that they could discourage other smaller companies from working with them.
This made me wonder whether it is just human nature to be a bully and use the power at hand. I reached the conclusion this is often the case and in terms of open innovation this is just what smaller companies should expect when they engage with large companies.
This is not to say that I approve of such behaviour. I prefer an ideal world in which all companies get along and share the pie in a fair and nice manner. But the problem is that we do not live in an ideal world. So what should smaller companies do about this?
I do not think they can do much to change the behaviours of the large companies. But they can prepare better. They should expect a bully-like behaviour and prepare for this rather than cross their fingers and hope for the opposite. They need to analyze the level of resources needed to work with the larger company and they need to weigh the pros and cons on potential deals. Some deals might not be worth the trouble.
At least some larger companies are aware of this situation. They understand how important it is to be perceived as the preferred partner within their industry. This was illustrated by the fact that some of the companies that admitted to loop-sided deals at the recent summit work to rectify those.
At the summit, a representative from a large company also shared that increasing the leadership position that comes with the perception of being the “preferred partner of choice” is an area of improvement to them.
On this, he mentioned that the company recently commissioned a third party to conduct a blind survey in which they asked a range of potential partner companies that had not yet worked with the given company whether they would like to do so. A large majority replied positively. Later in the same survey they asked companies that had already worked with the given company by revealing their name. Would they like to work with them again in the future? Although still in the high end, the reply here was lower than the first one.
This gives reasons to worry. Hopefully, it seems as if this company is up for the challenge as they show a willingness to confront and rectify this. This is most likely not the case at many other large companies, but let’s hope for the best – and tell smaller companies to prepare well…
Stefan Lindegaard is a speaker, network facilitator and strategic advisor who focus on the topics of open innovation, intrapreneurship and how to identify and develop the people who drive innovation.