“Disruption meets enterprise”: Interview with Patrick Cowden

At the final event of Telekom Innovation Contest 2015, the Innovation Expo in Budapest, Patrick Cowden, the Founder of Beyond Leadership & Corporate Entrepreneur, will talk about how disruption and enterprises fit together:

Who are you and what’s your background?

I have been a crazy combination of German, American and Asian cultures for my whole life. I grew up as a German-American, and I have spent the last ten years working for companies in Asia. I believe that this combination of German detailed process, quality, and „Ordnung“ is one part of me, another part is the American excitement, passion, and „Yes we can“ attitude. And I picked up the Asian long term sense and meaning of things. Those three pieces probably describe me best.

Coming from the Valley to Europe for making business is quite the opposite of what startups would consider. Why did you turn the story upside down?

When I was young, I was an IBM mainframe engineer. Back then, there was no Silicon Valley yet, but America still was the home of innovation and technology. If you want to disrupt easily, go someplace where no one else is disrupting. If you can be the only one, it improves your odds to be successful. I knew, going to Germany would give me the chance to bring all the strengths of my Amercian way of doing things to the European way of doing things. And it worked out. I wanted to go from dishwasher to millionaire. But everyone else was going the other direction at the time – to the US. I was lucky – within 10 years I had my first million. I was a millionaire with 29 – and with 30, the million was gone! My first ex-wife still sends me „Thank you“ cards for that. But that was an experience – making a million, loosing a million. I have done that three or four times since then. It was rare, thirty-some years ago in Germany, just like entrepreneurship.

At our event, you will talk about disruption and enterprise – what’s behind that topic?

Usually you would say, those two words don’t fit together: Disruption and enterprise. Disruption means doing something new and different in a radical way – which is what startups do. Enterprises are not new and different and radical – they are clear, structured and got process, they don’t move dynamically. But the interesting thing is: Both sides need each other. Disruptive startups are looking for processes and structure to scale and become big companies. And enterprises are looking for what startups have: energy and dynamics, speed, innovation and transformation.

Doing it in the right way, you can take that energy and dynamism of the startup and put it together with the structured process and professionalism of the enterprise. That combination is a whole lot bigger than one or the other.

For me, the question is not about whether the combination makes sense, but about „How would you do that?“. How do startups get the other piece in without loosing the spirit of what a startup is about, the disruptiveness? And how do enterprises do get that spirit of disruption inside without loosing the pieces that are holding them? My whole life I have been working on answering the „how“ question. Now I figured it out and know, how you can bring it together. Either way – for the small startups or the big enterprises. That’s the story that we will be talking about.

For most people disruption is concerning technology – but what does it mean for leadership and company culture?

When you get into the „how“, it’s not a technology question anymore, it’s a culture question. The core of those two pieces „disruption“ and „enterprise“ is culture – which is people.

People are driven all by the same, regardless if they are 20 years old or 80 years old. That cultural aspect inside of us is the driver of future organizations. Turning on the power on the cultural standpoint is the source of innovation, collaboration and creativity transformation.

But you have to be brave and bold enough to say: „I am willing to turn them on“. Because when they are turned on, you can’t control them anymore and can’t just turn it off again. You have to trust them.

That’s the fundamental piece: startups trust each other, that’s why they are tuned on. At some point they start to control each other – that’s why they are turned off. Big companies always control each other, that’s why most of them where turned off. But what if they turned it on? Wow, what a world that would be! And that’s my inspiration, that’s the story. At the end, disruption and enterprise is the topic, but underneath that, it’s the culture that activates human potential. And that’s the future, that’s the mechanism.

More information about Patrick Cowden

Patrick is a speaker and coach when it comes to topics about leadership and disruption. Learn more about him on his website www.beyond-leadership.de

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