Big business stifles creativity and innovation
At this year’s Like Minds Autumn Conference, I attended a talk by Luke Johnson @LukeJohnsonRCP chairman of Risk Capital Partners and a former chairman of Channel 4. Luke’s the guy who popularised Pizza Express, taking it from its origins as a fab and distinctive restaurant in Coptic Street (London) and turning it into a (sorry Luke) rather sterile but successful chain of 250 eateries.
Luke spoke from the heart and shared lots of stuff about what he’s done throughout his career, which he openly admits would have been harder to do without the benefit of education.
A Spirit of independence, freedom, tenacity and risk-taking
In his talk, Luke emphasised the entrepreneurial values of independence, freedom, tenacity and risk-taking; qualities most often found in people who own their own businesses (for example amongst foreign nationals who do not have the required qualifications to enter mainstream employment in the UK) and not very often amongst the leaders of large enterprise who are “entombed in the cosy, airless coffin of big business” (quote from Luke’s article describing leaders of big business).
Whilst I found myself not always being able to agree with the large, sweeping over-generalisations Luke made about entrepreneurial qualities, his point about how large corporations kill employee motivation, personal drive, confidence and creativity did resonate closely with my own experience of corporate directorships.
Robots not mavericks
His talk was peppered with references to the sorts of vacuous and uninspiring directorships I’ve held myself within large international corporations, be they UK, French or American. At their heart one major cause is responsible for the problem: large corporations that are not founder-run, very often replace humanity with robotic and sterile management, and become compressor machines that clone people and preclude the sort of maverick qualities businesses need.
Furthermore, large corporates are rarely anchored in community, they have no affinity with place, region or country and only seek to impose standardised work and culture models that emanate from their own home markets, which means they end up ignoring the local differences that make a business unique, innovative, creative, differentiated, appealing, genuine, personable and successful.
Sheep not shepherds
The trouble with the big fat corp model is that it breaks everyone’s balls (excuse my French) and imposes a skill set that is closer to that of sheep than it is to that of shepherd, making every employee tow the line, and not innovate. This breeds leaders that lick the bosses proverbial “a”, and it suits people who, in their childhood, spent their lives doing what their parents expected of them because this, not being free-spirited and different, was the only way they could successfully gain their parents’ love. How sad it is that these people end up in positions of leadership, stifling the motivation and innovation of their staff.
These are my own views and I am conscience that, not unlike that which I accused Luke of: making generalisations about leadership qualities, I am in danger of making similar sweeping generalisations about working for corporates, which stem only from my own personal view.
Anyway, Luke’s engaging talk struck a chord and resonated deeply with me, I am thankful to him for providing me with food-for-thought on my walk today on the wild, windy moor.
However, if we’re to avoid stereotyping good and bad leaders, innovative and sterile businesses, I’m keen we open up the discussion and aggregate the views of others, so please share an experience you’ve had of working for a big or small business, or perhaps owning your own.