The successful company lie

When anyone is looking for a new job, the company they worked for starts to matter more than ever. Society seems to have a default position to want to employ people who come from big name companies. When assessing potential employees the first thing we look at is where they have worked before. The thinking being that if they have worked for a successful company, then they are part of that success. A contributor, someone who knows how to win, someone who has already been vetted, if you will. But what if the opposite of that was true?

What if this employee from the successful company was hiding inside the deep and wide corporate infrastructure?

What is this employee was riding the wave of the hard work already done by those who came before them?

What if they were claiming the work of projects with a zillion participants?

What if they were better at internal company politics, than actually creating any true market value?

What if they never had the freedom of independent decisions and never actually did anything, and but worse, never made any mistakes either?

When we start to ask some of the question above (and there are many more) we start to see how flawed the ‘successful company mantra’ is. In real terms they’re the easiest place to ride career coat tails. Maybe we should instead be looking for people who’ve worked at crappy companies with poor reputations. Those struggling to stay alive, the fringe dwellers, or even those that failed. The irony is not lost on me that startup land reveres and respects failure, as a key learning mechanism, yet recruiters only ever what to employ people who came from a stable of success.

We need to think back to some of the best lessons we’ve had in our lives. Forget the corporate crap for a second and just consider the art of learning. We’ll find that mistakes are key. That when the scars run deep so do the lessons. When things go very wrong, we vow never to do it again and have the personal experience to know when to change course. We know the warning signs and what to look for. We spot the problems much quicker. Surely the same is true for where we work. We’ve all had superiors who just don’t get it. Bad bosses who taught us more about leadership than the good folk we worked for. And we’ve all seen ‘what not to do’ by working somewhere that consistently stuffs things up.

Success breads success? Well I’ve worked in some of the worlds most successful companies, I can tell you that they are often still filled with chickens, they are never an eagles only zone. Mind you, with size everything mathematically gravitates towards average – eventually. It’s a physical fact. So the larger the organisation, by definition the larger number of average employees it has. The real question isn’t if large company X has a better calibre employee than small company Y, the real question is what filter bubbles are we letting hide great people from us?


9 Comments The successful company lie

  1. 1st World Dog

    Absolutely agree. More proud and feel I have learnt and achieved more in the 2 and a bit years outside the corporate structure (with some significant blue chip companies on my CV) than the decade-ish that went before. Going into a 2 person partnership and having to make the tough calls is far more showing of ability. But what would these blue chips think if I needed to go back to that world? Hopefully I never need to find out!

  2. Steve Sammartino

    Probably the blue chips – and I know this because I went back once…. would listen, as many of them are being disrupted because the old model is broken. They sad thing for them, is that you still need some on your CV to even have a conversation. In the end, it’s their problem 😉

  3. sebastian mathew

    Hi Steve,
    I follow not many but few blogs.
    Your observations and ideas are always quite original and fresh.Somehow I get a déjà Vu feeling. Well done !keep the good work.

    What do you do for living?
    I am assuming you have a job where you have to talked to people and share ideas I guess.
    Kind Regards,

    Sent from my Phone


  4. Dave(e/id) Payne

    Dead right Steve!
    And beyond that, if what you are looking for is an entrepreneurial associate, remember some of the world’s most successful (business and other) people were lousy employees. (Although of course not ALL lousy employees will be great at something else.)

  5. Graham Apolony - Big Note Marketing

    This story reminds me of an associate from many years ago that used to take as gospel, anything said by an employee of IBM. IBM could do no wrong, and everything had to be done the way IBM would do it.

    Where is IBM now? Probably best known for having missed all the biggest opportunities in the computer industry, while they were doing everything the IBM way! They had the attitude that they were the market leaders and no one could match them in their thought leadership in the IT industry.

    Reminds me of your earlier post about Kodaking! Perhaps IBMing isn’t as appropriate as IBM have managed to survive despite missing the opportunities they had.

    Graham Apolony
    Big Note Marketing
    Promotional Calendars

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