Digital Accelerators Expected to Sort It All Out: How Businesses Are Avoiding Digitalisation

Image: Dotshock/
Image: Dotshock/

The world’s largest corporations are preparing themselves for the digital transformation – at least indirectly. Digital Initiatives are springing up like mushrooms. In particular, one variant is highly regarded: the setting up of digital forges which are to take up the hot topic with a lot of focus and innovation. Whether it’s Axel Springer, BASF, Daimler, Deutsche Bahn, Siemens or Telekom – hardly any large company seems to manage without accelerator programmes and start-up initiatives.

Innovation Factories Should Accelerate Digitalisation

In the United States alone there are more than 170 accelerator programmes. Over the past ten years, the number has grown tenfold – and the trend continues to rise. The crux of the matter: accelerator programmes definitely have their charm. Young companies can act quickly and exchange ideas with other founders in a community. At the same time, however, the many start-up initiatives give the impression that corporations are shirking digitalisation. You could also say that companies are building a digital biotope in order to avoid renewing their own competencies.

The Plug and Play Tech Center is such an accelerator programme and functions like a start-up camp. Young entrepreneurs, equipped with sufficient capital, should have a try at implementing new digital ideas. The Innovation Centre is funded by the Crème de la Crème of the global economy. From Allianz to Turkish Airlines, all global companies are looking for a bit of digital air and support the Plug and Play concept. The track record speaks for itself: Successful spin-off companies such as PayPal, Dropbox, SoundHound and Lending Club have been popular with users and investors alike for many years.



At the world’s largest accelerator programme Plug and Play, with its headquarters in Sunnyvale, California, mistakes are an integral part of the learning process

Image: Plug and Play Tech Center


Silicon Valley to Take Away, Please!

“Silicon Valley in a Box” is Plug and Play’s promise – can you now buy innovation and digital transformation made in California like a chocolate bar in the supermarket? The world’s largest accelerator programme is home to 400 start-ups and is based in Sunnyvale, in the heart of the Silicon Valley. Axel Springer opened the German spinoff in Berlin four years ago, trying to transfer the Californian innovation spirit to Berlin. But why do corporations such as Springer & Co. opt for the indirect approach to accelerator programmes and not face the challenges of digital transformation themselves?

The financial success of many start-up initiatives may be on their side. Prime examples such as Dropbox and PayPal have brought the pockets of their investors a lot more than expected. On the other hand, success stories which produced strategic added value are hardly known. What is meant by this? If a company does not participate in an accelerator programme simply for financial reasons, a knowledge transfer should take place sooner or later, which helps the parent company it its own digital transformation. However, it is at this point that most start-up programmes fail because they generate almost no strategic added value at all.


Fear of Failure Prevents an Efficient Learning Process

In order to get to the heart of the problem, we must dig deeper. Behind the idea of handing over innovation and digitalisation opportunities to an accelerator programme is basically the fear of failure. Following the motto “better to let others make the mistakes than to make them yourself”, many companies have systematically outsourced their problem-solving skills. The idea of letting other make mistakes first and then learning from them is very questionable.

Mistakes are an integral part of the learning process. The alleged advantage that corporations hope to gain from the outsourcing of error is actually to their detriment. “Making mistakes is useful,” is what Anna Gielas from Harvard University wrote many years ago, explaining why mistakes pay off in the end. Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs take the same line. “Anyone who creates innovation makes mistakes. It is important to acknowledge them quickly and work on improving,” is what the Apple founder once said. Whoever lets others make mistakes in the hope to learn from them could very well end up failing.


Digital Transformation Won’t Work Without Collaborative Learning

Ironically, however, it is precisely the fear of failure which moves corporations to the outsourcing of digital experiments. Many business leaders wrongly equate making mistakes with failure. It should have been clear long ago that digital transformation is a new challenge for all parties involved. The categorisation of right and wrong just confuses things. You can only have success in digitalisation if you accept and are open to the learning process, knowing that making mistakes is a natural part of this process. At least, some companies seem to realise this – Deutsche Bahn, Evonik, Oetker, Otto, Porsche and Volkswagen have lately invested in their own internal competence centers for digital transformation. We will keep you posted how these initiatives develop.

Summary: Many businesses have launched accelerator programmes to close the digital gap. However, the rapidly growing number of these initiatives is a symptom of their own fear of failure. Making mistakes is outsourced, even though mistakes are an integral part of a successful learning process. How you do organise collaborative learning and encourage your employees to not give up even when they make mistakes? We look forward to hearing your feedback – request a free live demo of Surwayne today and don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter!

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