"I think that's one reason big companies are so often blindsided by startups. People at big companies don't realize the extent to which they live in an environment that is one large, ongoing test for the wrong qualities...
Even in a field with honest tests, there are still advantages to being an outsider. The most obvious is that outsiders have nothing to lose. They can do risky things, and if they fail, so what? Few will even notice.
The eminent, on the other hand, are weighed down by their eminence. Eminence is like a suit: it impresses the wrong people, and it constrains the wearer.
Outsiders should realize the advantage they have here. Being able to take risks is hugely valuable. Everyone values safety too much, both the obscure and the eminent. No one wants to look like a fool. But it's very useful to be able to. If most of your ideas aren't stupid, you're probably being too conservative. You're not bracketing the problem.
Lord Acton said we should judge talent at its best and character at its worst. For example, if you write one great book and ten bad ones, you still count as a great writer-- or at least, a better writer than someone who wrote eleven that were merely good. Whereas if you're a quiet, law-abiding citizen most of the time but occasionally cut someone up and bury them in your backyard, you're a bad guy.
Almost everyone makes the mistake of treating ideas as if they were indications of character rather than talent-- as if having a stupid idea made you stupid. There's a huge weight of tradition advising us to play it safe. "Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent," says the Old Testament (Proverbs 17:28).
Well, that may be fine advice for a bunch of goatherds in Bronze Age Palestine. There conservatism would be the order of the day. But times have changed. It might still be reasonable to stick with the Old Testament in political questions, but materially the world now has a lot more state. Tradition is less of a guide, not just because things change faster, but because the space of possibilities is so large. The more complicated the world gets, the more valuable it is to be willing to look like a fool...
The lives of the eminent become scheduled, and that's not good for thinking. One of the great advantages of being an outsider is long, uninterrupted blocks of time. That's what I remember about grad school: apparently endless supplies of time, which I spent worrying about, but not writing, my dissertation. Obscurity is like health food-- unpleasant, perhaps, but good for you. Whereas fame tends to be like the alcohol produced by fermentation. When it reaches a certain concentration, it kills off the yeast that produced it.
The eminent generally respond to the shortage of time by turning into managers. They don't have time to work. They're surrounded by junior people they're supposed to help or supervise. The obvious solution is to have the junior people do the work. And some good stuff happens this way, but there are problems it doesn't work so well for: the kind where it helps to have everything in one head...
Techniques for competing with delegation translate well into business, because delegation is endemic there. Instead of avoiding it as a drawback of senility, many companies embrace it as a sign of maturity. In big companies software is often designed, implemented, and sold by three separate types of people. In startups one person may have to do all three. And though this feels stressful, it's one reason startups win. The needs of customers and the means of satisfying them are all in one head."