Early yesterday morning, after an hour of cranking on a deck, i realized it was my 5 year anniversay at my employer. I threw out a quick post on Twitter suggesting a new "law". Basically, it's this: The longer you stay in corporate america, the harder it is to make great things.
It got a bit of reaction, mostly negative. I shouldn't have posted it without context, in hindsight. I think it's real, and to me it's an important motivator, a watchout, a warning sign, which is why i posted it in the first place.
"Great" is a key term. And, i think "great" is relative to the culture/environment you're in. Company ABC has very different expectations and strategies and goals compared to Company XYZ, just like what's "great" in Niger or Chad may not be "great" in Tokyo or Silicon Valley. The challenge to anyone in a well established corporate culture? Stay focused on external benchmarks, on the innovators, on the dudes in a garage with 10K from YCombinator that are coming to decimate your "strategic advantage". Don't let your cultural blinders keep you focused on your corporate navel or your boss, or this quarter's objectives, or that single metric. Keep on eye on how the state of "great" keeps changing.
The other term is "make something". When you've been in one place for sooooooo long, it's easy to just keep the wheel moving. Its a lot easier to keep the current machine – no matter how shaky or out of date – operating smoothly. We can make Incremental improvements, but still be proud of efficiencies, productivity, etc. instead of starting something new that's vitally needed for longer term personal, professional, corporate or cultural success. Change, when it's meaningful and innovative, is hard. Really hard, especially when there's heavy, long term investment in a status quo that's been quite successful.
Finally, "make something great" doesn't just mean "make something that exists better". To me, i still believe that those that have been given talent, resources, opportunities and tools should have ambitions to make the world a better place. "Great" means having a social and historical impact. It's not cool these days to be nakedly ambitious, but i'll say it: I don't want to leave the planet without trying to do something historically noteworthy. Even if it's just in the company where i work, i want to leave a mark. I believe we should be shooting at making something, something that's noteworthy, something that people will remember because it had a lot of impact or helped others, something that is great.
So, i'm staying motivated, staying ambitious. I'm fighting the hypothetical "laws" of corporate physics.