back to article Enterprise whales leave R&D to the startup minnows

Why are the small flash vendors innovating while the big boys don't bother? Why are they leaving them for dust? More to the point, do the big firms care? Innovation in large companies is very hard; you have all the weight of history pressing down on you and few large companies are set up to allow their staff to really innovate. …

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Unhappy

"Innovation" through aqusition. SOP at Microsoft, so why not everyone else?

Now consider what this says about the company.

We can't recruit people who have original ideas.

We won't support them if they do.

We have an army of middle managers who will kick it to death or weigh it down with so much cruft it will sink without trace.

And if it gets through that gauntlet the Sales staff won't do a thing to move it.

The Board does not care as long as the sock price (and their options) rise.

BTW AFAIk Snapping up small successful start up has been US and European Pharma SOP for decades, possibly explaining why there are so few UK big pharma companies.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Innovation" through aqusition. SOP at Microsoft, so why not everyone else?

Do you really think that EMC, MS, Symantec, IBM, Oracle et al can't recruit people who have original ideas? That their managers only exist to stop staff innovating and in the unlikely event that they do, the sales staff will refuse to sell the product? You may be able to point to a couple of examples of each behaviour, but that doesn't make it the norm. Also, engineers in these companies thrive, if they understand how to work with the corporate machine, if you try to work against it you'll fail.

A case in point: I used to work for a large UK FI, there was a "you will wear ties" rule. We pointed out to the junior engineers that this is just how it is, you'll not be able to change it, there are things you can change, things which are up for discussion (such as the technology they work with), but ties are not negotiable. Pick your battles, was the general rule. We actually lost staff because of this and we didn't promote good engineers because they became fixated on ties as an issue and complained about it non-stop. Likewise, it was corporate policy to run certain applications on Windows there were a couple of guys in the Linux team who stunted their career by banging on about how bad Windows was almost constantly. The message that adopting a new technology in a large organisation can be a slow process, you're not going to dump a current system which is perfectly good to install another to replace it, until it's time to replace it. There is also an element of telling other senior staff that they are idiots for the decisions they've made in the past that you don't agree with is a bit of a CLD. (Career Limiting Decision)

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Bronze badge

Re: "Innovation" through aqusition. SOP at Microsoft, so why not everyone else?

"Do you really think that EMC, MS, Symantec, IBM, Oracle et al can't recruit people who have original ideas? That their managers only exist to stop staff innovating and in the unlikely event that they do, the sales staff will refuse to sell the product?"

You may be sarcastic here, but in a sufficiently advanced bureaucracy that's exactly what happens. Original ideas are dangerously disruptive. Innovators are a source of constant trouble. Managers are either tied up with a red tape, or are busy tying others up. Sales dept likes predictable cash flows over anything else.

In a nutshell: Doing the Thing Right mentality prevails.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Innovation" through aqusition. SOP at Microsoft, so why not everyone else?

The point I was making is that, just because you're working in a conservative environment, it doesn't mean that you can't be creative and do genuine cutting edge work. You just need to understand the rules of the environment, where the no-go areas are and how to work in the areas you can go. I have worked with many people over the years who have flourished in the above listed companies (I work for one of them and have worked with the others) I have also worked with many people who didn't understand how to work within the companies and consequently didn't do well. They tended to blame their lack of progress on their creativity being crushed by the corporate machine, rather than any problems of their own making.

Another example - we had a really talented engineer at a company I worked for, he got increasingly frustrated at the glacial pace of the change management system, eventually he edited a pre-backup script for a server that he was working on which popped up a root console. This was genuinely so that he could get the work done that he wanted more quickly. He was marched out of the building for gross misconduct within the hour as our IT security people weren't idiots. I spoke to him in the pub afterwards, he was still blaming the company for putting obstacles in his way and couldn't understand what he'd done which was so bad.

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Bronze badge

Re: "Innovation" through acquisition. SOP at Microsoft, so why not everyone else?

I'm not disagreeing with you entirely. Just pointing out that bureaucracy is indeed capable of suppressing innovation. Internal turf wars, incompetent metrics, stack rankings et al take precedence over actual business. Developers have to suffer endless disruptions (labelled of course as high-priority) from HR, H&S, CF and whatnot. No wonder they will eventually walk.

An eternal tension between "doing the right thing" and "doing the thing right" mentalities, with the latter being much more persistent in big corps. Managers, who are trying to bucket that trend, will eventually burn out or just give up.

A notable exception was MS Courier project. Probably last of its kind. Developers were located on a separate campus, with virtually no ties to the rest of the organization, and given a free reign over the project. End result was an innovative product, quite on time, but unfortunately did not fit well with existing strategy. Thus killed in a heartbeat.

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Anonymous Coward

I speak from some experience as I've been intimately involved in exactly what you describe, but it was a lot more along the lines of a company starting with an idea, a larger company becoming interested in that idea and then partnering with the startup. The startup is much more nimble, they can take risks, move more quickly, aren't constrained by the (admittedly necessary) corporate policies, HR, Change Control, purchasing, personal review, etc. etc. Once the product that the smaller company has developed is somewhere between 90% complete and just to market, the larger company buys the smaller one and puts its might behind the smaller one. At this point you've got the whole corporate machine to run with your product, rather than just a nobody startup. After all, which big company is going to trust their data to a nobody startup?

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Anonymous Coward

Haha...

You said nimble.

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Silver badge

Wall Street Killed R&D

Big research labs are basically gone now, Wall Street doesn't approve of R&D anymore. That's why it's hard to be creative and innovative from inside a large tech company: R&D can't get approval from the highest levels because the shareholders won't allow it. Even Intel, a historic leader in R&D, has talked about how the days of blue-sky R&D are over.

It's really sad to see the era end, but everyone is so focused on today's dollar they can't see tomorrow. After all the profits have been finally been squeezed out of the decades old inventions of Bell Labs and PARC true innovation will make a comeback. Right now people are still figuring out how to maximize WWII era technology so it is likely to be a while before it happens.

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Anonymous Coward

Great discussion!

I am a little surprised everyone is focusing on MSFT. They have been more innovative that other companies in the tech industry (Xbox, MSN, Windows *, etc). Agree they don't lead the charge, but they play in a bigger field that we give them credit for with more substantial products than Google.

A perfect example of the company that relies on external innovation is Cisco -- they have a term for this... spin-in.

http://www.bradreese.com/blog/4-13-2012.htm

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