08/14/2013 03:58 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 Things Innovative Corporations Have Learned From Helmuth von Moltke

Entrepreneurs talk shop at Dell #InspireHouse

Four weeks ago I was interviewed on Microsoft BizSpark's radio/web show in Mountain View. During these weekly segments, Doug Crets (BizSpark's social media strategist) provides a channel for emerging entrepreneurs to hear the "inside scoop" from industry experts on subject matter catered to them.

Three weeks ago, my CEO and I sat down with Google Analytics' Product Marketing Manager, Adam Singer, to discuss all things data and to learn more about what GA can offer to companies like ours.

Two weeks ago I attended Dell's #InspireHouse in the Hamptons where over 100 of today's leading thinkers, entrepreneurs and technologists gathered to knowledge share and network.

And last week I met with the Senior Vice President and Partner at Fleishman-Hillard (the third largest agency in the world), Vanessa Yanez, to shoot the breeze about the future of public relations and media.

The point?

In terms of innovation, today's leading companies have devised mechanisms by which to tap into the fire hose of entrepreneurs flooding the market.

They are listening, sharing and learning; the best are collaborative in their efforts. This is not to say these actions are rooted in altruism, but rather, modern minded companies understand how to leverage the entrepreneurial landscape without assuming a high level of risk for constant iteration and failure.

Simply put, this means two things:

#1 - Entrepreneurs with viable business ideas now have support from huge corporate infrastructures; this also means economic growth and sustainable jobs.

#2 - Ultimately consumers win if this philosophy of innovation and entrepreneurship is driving corporate business strategy.

Yesterday, I jumped on a call with Jeremy Johnson (lifelong entrepreneur and co-founder of 2U), to discuss this idea further. As we reflected on what companies like Dell, Microsoft and Google are doing to support entrepreneurs, his point about this strategy struck a chord:

"The real issue is that almost every initial idea sucks. Even ideas by extremely smart entrepreneurs or executives generally fail because very few business ideas or plans survive their first interaction with customers. It's an adaptation of a notion popularized by Helmuth von Moltke, one if the great military strategists of the 19th century: 'No plan survives contact with the enemy.' This is just as much a strategy for business success as it is for battle."

My first thought: wow, ok, you're smart.

My second thought: well then, what are the hallmark signs of these Moltke-minded companies?

#1 Lean thinking -- While they may be large and somewhat slow moving from the outside, lean methodology is spoken about and understood as an ideal core pillar within the corporation. Google is a perfect example of this with their "20 percent time"approach to the workday.

#2 Influencer initiatives -- Consumer product companies like Nike have seemingly always understood that influencers are often conduits to mass-market adoption; or they provide early warning signs of impending "flop-hood". But with the proliferation of tech products on the market, and startups fueling the fire, companies like Dell have launched programs to reach these influential entrepreneurs who can spread the gospel about the company's core initiatives.

#3 Venture arms -- Innovation requires capital. Major corporations have and will continue to launch investment vehicles by which they can benefit both from innovative thinking and long term profits associated with startup successes. Recently launched Microsoft Ventures reinforces this trend.

#4 Community building -- One thing Moltke-minded companies have in common is their ability to build community and provide resources for small business owners and entrepreneurs alike. American Express Open Forum and BizSpark are both great examples of companies who have created separate brand initiatives to engage core constituencies.

#5 Formalizing the "intrapreneur" role -- Venture Capital firms have been employing this tactic of the Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) for quite some time. It is both a strategic move and a secret weapon of sorts, intended to keep the firm aware of trends and (frankly) keep their heads out of their ass. But companies have also begun formalizing these roles for entrepreneurs, innovative minds, and creative thinkers. Google's In-House Philosopher, Damon Horowitz, and Dell's EIR, Ingrid Vanderveldt, are both examples of how tech giants continue to evolve their cultures and not get stuck in the minutiae of everyday operations.

So what does it all mean?

Well, according to Jeremy:

"The process of building a startup allows you to find out what an idea is supposed to look like. It's hard to do that inside a large company because they don't have the ability to iterate as quickly. The entrepreneurs they successfully engage, then, can focus on iterating while the corporate entity can focus on what it is best suited for: execution and infrastructure."

If you're an aspiring or even successful entrepreneur, it's a wise strategy to seek out and align yourself with companies who are intentionally building these infrastructures to support innovation. Entrepreneurship is often an isolating, risky endeavor -- but it doesn't have to be.

Today's landscape looks much different than even five to seven years ago. Leverage the expertise, resources and knowledge of these Moltke-minded companies and chances are your startup will see distinct, strategic advantages others fail to realize.