Steve Case, the founder of AOL and currently the Chief Executive of
Revolution, an investment firm, probably makes one of the best distinctions between entrepreneurs and large companies in his interview with The New York Times.
He calls entrepreneurs “attackers”, disruptors who are looking for opportunities and large companies, “defenders”, protecting their existing revenue.
“ As companies get larger — and I saw this with AOL even before we merged, but certainly after the merger with Time Warner — we did shift from being an attacker to a defender.
And I realized the world of business really separates into these two groups. The attackers are the entrepreneurs who are disrupting the status quo, trying to change the world, take the hill, anything is possible, and have nothing to lose in most cases. They’re driven by passion and the idea and intensity. Large organizations — and it’s true of Fortune 500s and it’s also true of governments and other large organizations — are defenders. These guys aren’t trying to pursue the art of the possible, how to maximize opportunity. They actually are trying to minimize the downside, and hedge risk. They’re trying to de-risk situations.”
Case is quick to add that there are plenty of executives looking to innovate and bring nimbleness to their large organizations. But, in the case with the failed Time Warner/AOL merger, politics and turf battles ensued, creating molasses. He faults himself for not promoting trust and collaboration between executives of the two companies so they could take risks and innovate.
His experience was very different at AOL, where fast growth and its inherent pains (technology problems) made him aware of how to motivate his teams in good and bad times. Case is featured in the Wisdom of Teams video training which is available on DVD or for online streaming. He is among six real world leaders who show how leaders can build and grow teams for innovation. You can see a video preview here.
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