Can a big company become as dynamic as a start-up? Audi Denkwerkstatt tries to answer this question through innovation.
Audi Denkwerkstatt – which roughly translates to “laboratory of ideas" – was founded in Berlin in 2016, with the specific goal of combining the innovative spirit of a start-up with the solidity of a big company by developing innovative strategies and business models.
Concrete approach and high turnover
The underlying approach is somewhat revolutionary: the permanent team of Audi Denkwerkstatt, consisting of eight people, welcomes fifteen new colleagues every six months, taken from various departments of Audi’s locations across Germany. Here, the new arrivals abandon their day-to-day tasks and concentrate on a single goal – developing premium solutions for the urban mobility– with an approach from different perspectives, which obviously come from their different professional experiences: it is a method that increases the speed of execution and helps generating great ideas, which are then refined and actualised in pure start-up fashion.
The first major step the new team members face with is dealing with a radical change in the way they take on projects: in a start-up there is a tendency to reach an acceptable level of product quality for the initial launch phase, while in a company like Audi, everything must work perfectly from the very beginning.
The process also involves continuous discussions with a network of start-ups and creative minds (facilitated by co-working), and an immersion in the Berlin ecosystem to understand the actual needs of the city users.
But in order to contribute to changing the cultural paradigm of a large, structured organisation such as Audi, it is necessary for each team member to focus on reaching this goal, and to have an open mind. Obviously, for those who have worked for long periods in highly specialised roles, this adaptation will take longer. In any case, good ideas are what counts, and this applies to all business areas.
Start-up vs big company
The difference in approach is significant: all start-ups are based predominantly on the idea that a product or service can be successful. The idea is defined, submitted to potential customers, and then continuously optimised on the basis of their feedbacks.
A large company, on the other hand, starts out from much more highly structured processes, that start years before the launch of a product. For this reason, it is not always easy for two such different business concepts to work together – but succeeding means increasing the speed of development of new ideas, and improving the focus on customers.
When the team members return to their own departments after six months working at Audi Denkwerkstatt, they share the new methodology with their colleagues, along with the most innovative perspectives and suggestions – and this increases efficiency, allowing them to make concrete contributions to changing the work culture and offer innovations in terms of management. There are also much shorter programs (one week) for managers, for a full-immersion experience in the world of start-ups and mobility innovation, but also to offer a view of an alternative, highly efficient working method. The interest in this initiative is so high that Denkwerkstatt is already completely booked up for the whole of next year.