Does Conformity Increase Startup Success?

Harvard Business School professor Mukti Khaire has an interesting theory – that startups can grow by conforming.

Assistant professor Mukti Khaire believes that small companies can grow by developing intangible social resources such as legitimacy, status, and reputation. In an interesting twist, her research on this insight is that these intangible resources may be best acquired by following a road of conformity in how your company is organized and presented to the outside world. In start-ups in established industries, conventional business titles such as Marketing Director work better than novel ones like Chief Evangelist.

For all the talk about startups an innovation, we often ignore the conforming qualities, although they make sense. You can sell a new product in an old way, sell an old product in a new way, but selling a new product in a new way is tough. Entrepreneurs often pursue a chosen path because they are fed up with the status quo, but the status quo is the status quo because other people are comfortable with it. There is a strong temptation to reject everything status quo because it represents the old way. But if this research is correct, consumers may prefer modifications to the old way instead of wholesale upheaval.

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