Three bad things about working at a big company

Other | 2007/08/16 13:42 | Web 2.0 Asia
As requested by the commenter saudade I'm quickly adding three bad things about working at a big company.

1. You could be very smart, but that might not be enough  

In an ideal world, smart people should win. But in reality, it doesn't only take being smart - especially at a bigco.
Big companies have great reputations and they attract so many great talents.
So you not only find you are not the only smart person on the block, but also find that the moment you spit out something you think is a really smart plan, suddenly you are faced with 2 PhDs and 3 MBAs who try to prove you are wrong and eat you alive, thereby increasing their chance of getting chosen as VPs.
If you should face only with those 2 PhDs and 3 MBAs, it's not so terrible, as you can at least have a chance to outsmart them with your efforts. But at a big company, there are usually not-so-smart incumbents as well.
Smart, fresh talent and not-so-smart incumbent bosses who've seen it all? World's worst combination.
So, as time goes by, you learn to do several things well: a) keep low profile and do nothing unless it's extremely necessary for you to do something - for fear of being smoked by smarter people b) do politics and try to look loyal (not actually loyal) to the company c) drink when you don't want to, smile when you don't want to, etc.
About keeping low profile and doing nothing: One of my bosses at a bigco once jokingly said that working at a big company is like being on a train; Even if you run fast within the train, that doesn't help the train go any faster.
Fearing this, the smart HR guys are constantly coming up with ways to make you work harder - performance reviews, the-bottom-10%-goes-home system, etc.
And you know what? Truly great work hardly comes from external challenges, but come from internal motivations.
Who tells Richard Branson or Steve Jobs to show up at work on time?
And you try to talk this out with your HR director, emphasizing you are on a special occasion. But he could care less because you're just part of a big system, rather than an individual. In other words, you are an employee #365652 who is categorized as C-2D or whatever, not (your name) who's the pride of the family. 
2. Unless you are a CXO, you earn decent amount of money, but not crazy amount of money
Let's face it. What's the ultimate dream of you? Isn't it cashing it out and chilling in the Midterrenean?
It's difficult to achieve although you hit the jackpot with your own business.
Big companies pay you okay, but not hugely. And they pay you only as long as you work your ass off. That's why they ask you to submit your health report before getting in - they want to make sure you won't die from hard work.  
Of course if you become an exec, chances are they will pay you enough so you won't have to care about personal financials.... Wait a minute, how many people in the world doesn't care about personal finances? Besides, by the time you become an exec, you could be too old and fat for that Maserati you've always dreamed about.
3. You should always think about your next move
People live longer these days. You might find yourself working your ass off even when you are 75 years old.
Today's 60-year olds expected they would be able to retire and spend time with their grand children. But they now find themselves working, unlike their parents.  
If you have to work at 75, that means if you quit your company at 45 you still have 30 more years to work. 30 more years! That's why you should devise your long-term career plan very carefully.
One good thing about selling your startup or getting a Harvard MBA is, you can forget about your career plan at least for some years, as you know you can always go back to the job market later, and focus entirely on what you value the most.
And often the ones who produce the greatest results are the ones who entirely immerse themselves in their highest value.
But unless you are in that position, you always have to run the "calculating next career move" thread on a corner of your brain, which can often consume unnecessary CPU power.
There's a technique called "Springboarding" - get in the new place, put in hard efforts for 3-4 years, make some remarkable achievements and get promoted, and find the next position as soon as you get the promotion.
I've seen some people who planned and executed this "Springboarding" smartly and became a VP at a nice company in about 10 years of time.
Whether you use the Springboard technique or stick to a single place, you should still always think about your career move - which can be pretty tiring and at some point you might find yourself just getting the hell out of everything. Hence the third bad thing about working at a big company - well it could be the bad thing about working at any company after all.
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