Why I Left

Fortune has a special section on Innovation in the November 15 issue.

Bill Joy describes [sub. needed] succinctly why I left GE:

So why is innovation so hard for big companies? The main reason is that innovative people tend to prefer working in smaller organizations that have more focus and less bureaucracy. Even in small companies, adopting a large-company style can frustrate the innovators.

The problem with large companies isn’t that they fail to do large and seemingly ambitious projects; it’s that they fail to do small, quirky, controversial projects—truly innovative projects that wouldn’t be accepted by the organization at large but that have the potential to grow. (If everyone thinks an idea is okay, how can it be innovative?) A large organization—its missions threatened by new ideas—is often incredibly hostile to its own innovators; the antibodies to change are strong.

During my last years at GE, I was unconsciously trying to find small groups to work in. I found them more exciting. I found they had less overhead (i.e. less managerial interference, less politics, less PowerPoint presentations). I found I could be more creative and get more done. The last group I worked in had 6 people in it when I started. The product caught shortly after I got there and grew to about 70 in less than six months. I spent another 12 months there and finally decided to left GE. It was getting hard to find small places.

I spent two years working with my dad in a four person fabrication shop. I started enjoying myself again. We had lots of everything except money. We tried all sorts of things. It was fun.

I find the work I am doing with 800-CEO-READ to be the same. We are trying new things all the time. Some work and some don’t. Jack says throw it at the wall and we’ll see what sticks.

Innovation is about trying and you have to be given the opportunity to do some trying.

4 thoughts on “Why I Left

  1. Did you mean to say why Joy left Sun?

    I’m with you all the way about GE. They were my first employer. I’m just grateful they were axing people left and right in the aerospace unit to create an attractive package for sale to Martin Marietta (never give your employees a “maybe you might be laid off in three months” notice unless you want them to quit).

    I also find that large companies don’t tend to realize and draw out the latent potential in their employees – so much talent is just wasted. My next company, GE’s competitor, was the same company to underappreciate and then lose several later successes: John Warnock (Adobe) and Jim Clark (SGI, Netscape). Amazing. My companies keep getting smaller too!

  2. No, I meant why I left. He came up with a very short, simple explanation for something I have been thinking about for some time.

    I knew I was trying to hide out in little groups. I didn’t know why. I knew I wanted to avoid the molasses that management pours over an organization. Joy’s piece made me realize I wanted to do things and change things and improve things. I was tired of the resistance.

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  4. I just finished reading Punished By Rewards and your post make something click.

    If you are in a rewards based system, and virtually all large businesses are, then you not going to do something that threatens your supply of rewards.

    Reward based systems also tend to focus people on the reward instead of the project.

    These things combined will obviously make large companies very hard on creativity. Can large companies exist without reward systems, sure, but I don’t know any.

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