You know you are an entrepreneur at heart, but you find yourself working inside a large organization. How do you cope?
“If you don’t like your job, quit.” This is part of the manifesto of holstee.com, one my favorite entrepreneurial companies, and is perfect for a conversation I am having with the head of strategy of a large financial services technology firm. We are in his office overlooking Park Avenue in Manhattan. He’s laying out for me some of the challenges faced by a growing number of firms that are trying to inject a more innovative, entrepreneurial spirit into their cultures.
“If only I worked at Google,” he lamented. At Google you get 20% of your time to explore new ideas, failure is not only tolerated but celebrated, and the company supports the kinds of long-term projects that most companies shun.
I am playing a game. My goal is to interview 10 innovators every week as part of my new book project. Each time I learn something, but every now and then I hear a story that opens up an entirely new perspective.
My friend and client Doug is one of those rare crossbreeds of seasoned entrepreneur and capable big-company operator. A mathematician by training, he spent 18 years with a small company moving from engineering to sales, then joined a start-up that grew 40% per year for seven years before selling to Raytheon. An acquisition or two later and he found himself in a senior role at one the largest engineering companies – and one of the largest companies period – in the world.
Every week I interview five to 10 innovators and innovation experts as part of my book project. Each time I ask the same question: In your experience, what are the greatest barriers to innovative ideas realizing their potential inside large organizations?
You’ve got the idea. You know it will work. If only you can move fast enough, keep up the pace of those younger, smaller startups. The opportunity should be yours but you worry that bureaucracy will slow you down.
I’d say I bat about 500. For every 1,000 goals I’ve set for myself, if I am truly honest, I’ve hit maybe 500 of them. I wanted to write a book … and I wrote a book. I wanted to build a successful investment fund … well, that’s still a work in progress. I married the woman of my dreams but I don’t (yet) have the six-pack abs of my dreams.
Thousands of years ago, hunter-gatherers huddled around campfires would share stories of the “great hunt” or battle. Our heroes in these narratives left the safety of camp, clad in leather, wielding swords, stepped into dark woods to battle a mythically large creature or enemy, and returned in glory with meat to feed a village.