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Great post today by Ben Horowitz about the problems with innovation in big companies and the differences between a “Can Do” and a “Can’t Do” culture. One of the key takeaways for me was this:

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.

Having spent time with a startup, a small company that grew into a big company, and a small company that was acquired by a large company, I have seen the difference between the “can do” and the “can’t do” cultures.  I have also seen the ramifications of what happens when a “can do” culture morphs into a “can’t do” culture.

One thing Ben does not discuss in-depth is the devastating effect company politics can have on innovation — which is a driving force behind the “can’t do” epidemic. While politics exist in all organizations, they can be much easier to navigate when you have a small team, particularly when you are living on the edge and every dollar counts.  But in large organizations, power structure, appearance, and ego are much bigger factors when it comes to trying to foster innovation. It’s astounding to me how often the risk of being wrong or making a mistake outweighs potential reward — and that is when innovation gets put in the strangle hold.

So seek out companies that are forward thinking, embrace taking risks and challenge conventional wisdom — the “can do’s”. When you see a “can’t do” organization, run the other way FAST!

Click here for Ben’s full article.