4 Ways Large Organizations Can Be Innovative Like a Startup

Building customer understanding into our DNA

It’s almost conventional wisdom that innovation springs from start-ups in entrepreneurial hotbeds like Silicon Valley. But large companies like Capital One have our own distinct advantage that comes from leveraging our resources and diverse talent to launch big ideas successfully. 

During a panel discussion at the 2020 Fall Fast Company Innovation Festival, Jennifer López— VP of Product Development & Head of The Innovation Labs—shared a few ideas for incubating new products and services within large organizations and how to overcome common internal roadblocks to collaboration and ideation. She was joined on the virtual stage by Walmart’s General Manager of Membership David Echegoyén and The Microsoft Garage’s Envisioneer Mike Pell. 

“Speed has a Different Definition at Our Company”

Our innovation has long relied on a “test-and-learn” approach, a set of practices to test consumer ideas in a small number of locations or with a small group of customers to predict impact. That has informed our company from idea to end product. 

As Jennifer noted, “when I talk about speed, it’s really about the speed to learning. How do we learn as much as we can as quickly as we can? That’s how we make the right decisions and bring the right things to our customers. Our infrastructure is set up so we can learn as quickly as possible and figure out what’s next.”

By discovering all the potential opportunities and pain points, we’re able to glean better insight on what exactly our customers need. We pause at every phase of the customer journey to learn how to make incremental improvements and use cutting-edge innovations to help better customers’ lives. Our tech transformation is helping to enable our speed, agility and innovation for customers on a number of fronts. The cloud’s flexibility, capacity, and resilient microservices architecture enable customer experiences such as:

  • Eno, an intelligent assistant that provides real-time alerts that look out for customers and their money 
  • Capital One Shopping, an online shopping tool that helps customers find savings by searching for lower prices and coupons, plus earn credits that can be redeemed for gift cards. 
  • Auto Navigator, a digital tool that helps simplify new car buying and financing

“Ruthlessly Focus on What Matters”

“Failing does not matter except that it tells you what doesn’t work. If you focus on the failure moment, that doesn’t get you anywhere,” Jennifer said. In Capital One’s Innovation lab, we explore the intersection of emerging technology and finance by building innovative products, defining consumer experiences, and engineering solutions. 

“I always talk to my team about when you work in innovation and new products, you have to be incredibly resilient because most of the fantastic ideas won’t work,” Jennifer added. In fact, we look at hundreds of ideas annually and shut down 95% to 97% of those ideas. 

Fear of failure shouldn’t keep teams from trying new things, David said, explaining his preference for combining intelligent risks with a learning agenda. “That means we’ve really looked at why it could work and why it might not,” he said. “If it doesn’t work, it’s going to teach us things so that we can take another intelligent risk.”

To get to a place where companies can take intelligent risks and be resilient starts by laying down a rigorous process to achieve innovation. For Capital One, that means incorporating rich digital banking experiences delivered through human-centered design and real-time software, data, and algorithmic solutions. We’re recruiting diverse teams, developing and empowering our technology talent, and fostering an inclusive company culture that is not only celebrated, but fuels ingenuity. Most of all, our teams are filled with people whose strengths complement each other and are ruthlessly passionate about what our company could do for customers.

“A Focus-and-Flare Mindset”

As with the startup mentality, big companies may have “wild west” ideas of innovation where people look to explore unknown frontiers within the tech industry. But big companies are able to tackle innovation and make it all about finding the ideas that teams can methodically approach and move forward.  Jennifer explained it as a “focus-and-flare” mindset. 

“At the Labs as well as the rest of Capital One, we say when you’re flaring and coming up with options, everything is open. Everyone will help you imagine a different state,” Jennifer explained.  On the other end of the spectrum, when we’re focused we laser in on how to get a product or service out the door for our customers.

Mike added that encouraging all employees to come up with innovative ideas can help transform a company’s corporate culture to be less risk-averse. At Microsoft, he explained “we started using hackathons to encourage people from across the company to join diverse project teams to quickly prototype and demonstrate those big ideas. The passion we saw from employees worldwide for moving their ideas forward led us to develop a customer-facing channel to run hypothesis-driven experiments with those early stage projects.”

Capital One has democratized ideation, creativity and innovation through our everyday motivation to help our customers with their financial lives—to save them time, money, and to inspire a sense of optimism about the future, every day. That means putting the right information and tools in their hands—proactively, before they need it. 

“Think About the Customer Voice”

“How do we build customer understanding into our DNA?” Jennifer said. “Who we are is a representation of the people who we are trying to serve every single day. We are speaking their stories. It’s what drives us.” 

We obsess over the customer experience beyond the moment people open their accounts. As part of Capital One’s broader efforts to build digital solutions, we aim to provide customers with effortless experiences and great value so they can live their best lives, confident that we’ve got their back.

As we continue the innovation mindset embraced by startups, we know that it takes innovation and creativity to ensure that we build products and services that serve all of our customers. Fast Company recently recognized our entrepreneurial spirit in its 100 Best Workplaces for Innovators. For additional information on how you can be a part of our workplace, click here

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