Julian Birkinshaw is Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at London Business School. His particular field of interest is the challenges for large companies who want to work in more innovative and agile ways, which is a topic that comes up time and again in my work with Solverboard customers as well as in all the literature around innovation. I heard Julian speak at the Front End of Innovation conference in June 2017, and then read his latest book, Fast/Forward, and he was kind enough to spend some time on the phone with me.
Hi Julian, to get us started, could you tell me a bit more about the field you work in?
There’s a perennial need for large companies to try to get a balance between economies of scale and market size and power on the one hand, and responsiveness and adaptability and innovation on the other. Most big companies are very good at being big and they’re typically fairly bad at being responsive and flexible and adaptive.
There is always an appetite for advice on how to do these sorts of things better, so that’s the broad scope of my research over the last 19 years.
What I really liked about your book was the idea of emotional conviction being vitally important. I often feel that strategy is a post-rationalisation of a gut feel or a hunch, and was wondering what led you to be interested in this particular aspect of corporate entrepreneurship?
There’s two answers to that question. One is that over the last five years or so analytics, big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning have found their way to the top of the conversation in big companies because, as always, technology enables you to do things that you couldn’t do before. The further that conversation progressed, the more worried I became, because I felt that if you allow the computers to take over you could find your way into a set of unhelpful organisational pathologies.