10 Things Enterprise CIOs can learn from Startups about Innovation and Disruption

Last week at the CIO Global Forum I had the privilege of moderating a panel of startup technologists on the topic of innovation and disruption. The audience was approximately thirty Fortune 500 CIOs, and I was determined to demonstrate what enterprises could learn from nimble, agile, and innovative startups.The panel included Fred Kemmerer (Genband), Staffan Truve (Recorded Future), Dries Buytaert (Acquia / Drupal @Dries) and Jeremy Howard (Kaggle @jeremyphoward).
  • Founders spend an inordinate amount of time working on culture. It's key to get the brightest minds to join, work hard, and stay.
  • Everyone must be productive. One CTO probably wasn't exaggerating when he said, "everyone must be able to code." Their perception is that corporate CIOs spend too much time on process or governance.
  • Founders warn that it can take many years for innovative solutions to gain adoption. Dries reminded everyone that it took Drupal many years to get a loyal following and critical mass of websites. Their perception is that corporations don't have the patience to fund innovations long enough.
  • Innovation is about "building products people like", build something people need, and make sure to "eat your own dogfood" and use your solutions.
  • Startups talk about disruption a lot. They are highly competitive, almost arrogant in terms of how much their solutions can either demolish competition or force new paradigms. They suggest corporations don't study competitor enough or look for adjacent opportunities.  They advise CIOs to expose the data and force the conversation on disruption.
  • 99.9% of the smartest people are not in your corporation, so outsourcing some innovation is important to bring in new capabilities.
  • Corporations can compete against disruption, but the longer they wait, the harder and more expensive it is to win the battle. Their message is that corporations often wait too long and then don't have the organizational capabilities to change and respond.
  • I asked the founders about getting to a critical mass of users and usage - a problem many CIOs have in getting internal users to adopt new technologies. Their "secret" is it's all in the user interface and suggest that new technologies have to be incredibly easy for users to get the right adoption.
  • On evaluating solutions from startups, they suggest measuring them on the following metrics: cheaper, better, faster. Make sure solutions you select will keep you ahead in innovation.
  • Startups need to be technically advanced. They automate everything, invest in unit testing, and have coding standards. Some deploy daily. They design open systems.
Special thanks to Michael Voellinger (@Michael__V) the forum.


  1. Thanks for the summary Isaac - good stuff to keep in mind!

    1. Thanks Karmyn! Hope you are doing well

  2. To think that big companies tend to rely on business advisory services to keep the system in order. Looks like a case of youth trumping experience.

    Fregard Mosform

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    -Hugh Parizeau

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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld, CIO.com, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.