Commonly, when we think of the word startup, we think of those "two guys in a garage" tinkering, inventing, and changing the world. Big companies, by contrast, are supposedly sclerotic, bureaucratic, and doomed to fail at innovation. I believe this narrative is false, and that companies -- even large, established ones -- can foster disruptive innovation, if they are willing to adopt the right process and mindset. This is one of the claims in The Lean Startup that is most often met with skepticism. Seeing is believing, so rather than try and convince you, take a look for yourself.
Nordstrom is currently ranked #254 on the Fortune 500 (yes, I looked it up) with over $9 billion in revenues. Scrappy startup they are not. And yet they face the same competitive pressures that are causing every modern company to take a long, hard look at the process they use to innovate. Anyone who has read The Innovator's Dilemma knows just how hard it is for a company that has been successful to invest in potentially disruptive innovations.
JB Brown is the manager of the Nordstrom Innovation Lab. He has been working inside Nordstrom to accelerate their process of innovation. Nordstrom sent a camera crew to document the Lab at work. When I saw the rough cut of the videos they were producing, I knew they would be a powerful teaching tool. It's one thing to talk about "rapid experimentation" and "validated learning" as abstract concepts. It's quite another to see them in action in a real-world setting.
Below, you'll find two videos: one about the lab, and one containing a case study of the team at work. Watch as they build a complete app (to help sell sunglasses) in exactly one week. They walk into the store not knowing what would be most useful to build. But with the help of customers, salespeople, managers -- and a healthy dose of experimentation -- they're able to figure out an answer and execute it in a matter of days.
Here are some highlights that I found especially interesting:
- One-week iterations. One of the hardest things about corporate innovation is breaking through the slowness that is the default speed for most initiatives. The Nordstrom Innovation Lab solves this problem by working in one-week increments. In the second video above, you'll see them build an entire new product in one week end-to-end.