Research on the S&P 500 companies in the United States reveals a mind-blowing fact, illustrating the dramatic changes and uncertainty faced by corporations. The lifespans of top companies are shrinking; a 61-year tenure for the average firm in 1958 was narrowed to 18 years in 2012. This is forecasted to shrink further to 14 years by 2026.
This shrinking corporate lifespan serves as an alert to leaders of corporations and organizations, as past corporate success does not guarantee future success.
Leaders at corporations and organizations need to think and act like a startup, in order to effectively address all these changes.
There are several ways leaders can think and behave differently.
 Think possibility, not feasibility
Leaders of traditional organizations tend to spend time and resources on feasibility studies before getting projects started. In the traditional mindset, this was fine for certain industries like manufacturing or energy, which are relatively stable. However, in the modern era, with technologies disrupting various industries and change becoming constant, leaders need to adopt a more agile mindset.
Leaders should think like startup founders, focusing on exploring various possible business options in a speedy manner. Lengthy feasibility studies might not be relevant for leaders today.
Leaders should focus on possibility, rather than feasibility.
 Think growth, not status quo
Leaders of traditional companies are comfortable maintaining the status quo. It is the “if it is not broken, don’t fix it” mentality. For startups, there is no such thing as a status quo. For startups, every day is different. Startups focus on growth, not the status quo. Leaders of traditional organizations need to learn how to achieve business growth, not how to maintain the current situation or market position. Leaders need to think of growth. Be bold, take risks and be opportunistic.
 Think exponential growth, not incremental growth
Traditional organizations tend to focus on incremental growth, aiming to make something better. Startups tend to focus on exponential growth, aiming to make something different. Traditional organizations are happy with 10 percent growth, while startups aim for 10X growth.
In order to achieve exponential growth like Uber, Google, and Amazon, leaders need to think differently. Leaders need to think beyond simple marketing and embrace growth with a holistic growth mindset, employing things like the development of strategic partnerships, building a network of evangelists, and creating communities.
 Lead by multidisciplinary experiments, not departments
Traditional organizations tend to have a complex structure with employees organized in departments. Each department takes care of its own “turf” and the structure is hierarchical.
In a startup, organization structure tends to be small and flexible, with less clear-cut departmental segregation. As a result, internal communication and project movement tend to flow faster. Leaders of traditional organizations should lead by experiments. Leaders should gather employees from different departments into a task force, encourage employees to test ideas, do experiments with certain new initiatives, and learn from the process.
 Be customer-driven, not process-driven
Traditional organizations tend to operate using processes. A wide range of internal processes, with multiple rounds of discussions, protocols and approvals, are implemented to ensure things are done “properly.” Startups are less focused on processes. They are focusing on one thing: customers, and how to acquire and retain customers. All leaders need to learn from startups and put customers first. Internal process should give way to acquiring and serving customers. For example, if a customer makes a complaint or suggests a new idea, give it a try. Be flexible, and tweak the internal process to serve a customer, if necessary. Be driven by customers, not by processes.
 Do more, plan less
Traditional business models tend to do a lot of planning and planning is one of the key management functions. Proper planning ensures the organization is moving in the right direction with the right resources. However, too much planning slows things down. On the other hand, startups tend to focus more on growth and execution. Startups tend not to over-plan. Leaders need to focus more on action and execution, rather than planning.
 Organize “ideas labs”, not pure meetings
Traditional organizations run the business via meetings. A lot of meetings to inform, discuss, persuade, and decide on business issues on an agenda. While holding meetings could be an effective way to ensure proper communication is done within an organization, a better way is to make meetings more hands-on (working towards a particular project or issue). Leaders in the future should consider organizing ideas labs, rather than meetings. Ideas labs are interactive, intensive, multidisciplinary, and free-thinking sessions, in which participants are at liberty to come up with new ideas, elaborate on new ideas, develop prototypes of ideas, and test the ideas. Ideas labs accelerate the learning experience for everyone and help organization reach goals faster.
About Dickson T
Dickson T is the founder of DicksonLeader.com, helping individuals, leaders and business owners prepare for the future of work. He is also the author of an upcoming book “Leadership for future of work: 9 ways to build career edge over robots with human creativity”. You should follow him on Twitter @imDicksonT