It's a paradox that all companies face. From startups to multinationals, the ability to reach new markets depends on being big enough to access resources, yet small enough to adapt. It's a difficult balance to strike.
At first glance, it seems that David Butler, the Vice President of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Coca-Cola, is romanticising startups when he praises them for their quick reaction to change. But with his Coca-Cola Founders project, he is putting his money where his mouth is. And he's gone even further than that. He's written a book about it. What's more, it's a good one.
In Design to Grow: How Coca-Cola Learned to Combine Scale and Agility (and How You Can Too), the world's biggest brand unlocks the secret to its enduring success. Written with Linda Tischler, senior editor at Fast Company, Butler draws on examples from within the corporation to show how it has stayed on the front foot. But this isn't just a vanity piece. What the writers point out is that, while only one in ten startups manage to access the resources they need to succeed, even the mighty can fall. They look to high-profile collapses including Kodak and Blockbuster that have failed to keep up.
Crucially, Butler and Tischler show that the purpose of design is to integrate elements in a system: "we can get much more efficiency and create more impact by thinking more holistically about design". Their key point is that all design - from packaging to organisational structure - needs to be brand driven. When the brand proposition and visual identity are clearly defined, all communications become connected. That's why when David Butler was brought in by Coca-Cola in 2004, the first product he focussed on was Coca-Cola itself. Once the design for his leading brand was in place, the design for the others conformed to create consistency.
This book supports notions we've held for some time. That design is more than just a marketing stunt. It is a fundamental tool for organisations to use to adapt to new and changing markets. This isn't just something we recommend our clients do, it's something we practice ourselves with a process we've dubbed Design House. To remain both fresh and relevant, we develop and introduce solutions or versions of solutions that respond to a changing market's needs - developed and tested through Design House. In fact, internally or externally focussed, every process and interaction in our business runs through it.
We have followed our own advice, and Butler is taking his. He is putting a new design into action at the moment which involves Coca-Cola literally harnessing the power of startups. By promoting entrepreneurs around the world and using the corporation's resources to support their startups through Coca-Cola Founders, the global brand plans to use the agility of their nimble partners to quickly access new markets and opportunities. Not only does this makes for a radical departure from traditional practice by using the principles of growth by design, it's living proof that having the best of both worlds is not only possible - it's within reach.