Can’t-Do Culture

Excellent piece by Ben Horowitz on culture within larger organizations: Can-Do vs. Can’t-Do Culture

“As a venture capitalist, people often ask me why big companies have trouble innovating while small companies seem to be able to do it so easily. My answer is generally unexpected. Big companies have plenty of great ideas, but they do not innovate because they need a whole hierarchy of people to agree that a new idea is good in order to pursue it. If one smart person figures out something wrong with an idea — often to show off or to consolidate power — that’s usually enough to kill it.

This leads to a Can’t-Do Culture.”

This is why I love startups. Big organizations have lots going for them, but the ability to test new ideas quickly is not one of them. Since they’ve been successful at doing something a certain way, the door closes quickly on other ways of doing things…simply because they’re not proven yet. As Clayton Christensen has pointed out, this is a perfectly rational response by those people. Keep doing what works!

So here’s the question: How do you do both? How do you keep what’s successful and constantly try new things? Sounds an awful lot like the innovator’s dilemma…and the only way to conquer that is to actively try to disrupt yourself. The problem with that is once you have a “can’t do culture” there is nobody left who dares to try.

Ben’s whole piece is worth reading: Can-Do vs. Can’t-Do Culture

Published: January 23rd, 2014