I used to be averse to 9-5 jobs. Who in their right mind would want to call it a day at 5 or 6 pm, and enjoy the rest of their night? People are weird sometimes.
I gravitated to startup culture for its blatant- if slightly overplayed- cheekiness. Work whenever you want! Don’t you dare wear a suit! Take a specially designed American Apparel tee instead. Even when I didn’t mind donning pencil skirts and heels – and actually, kind of wanted to – something in me admired the irreverence of startup culture.
Underlying everything was my belief that startup people loved their jobs more than corporate ‘sellouts’ did. Startup employees had passion and personal stake that kept them working into the wee hours. While definitely true for some people, particularly founders, the obsessive workaholic drive isn’t a good fit for everyone. It eventually took its toll on me when I found myself unable to think amid side conversations 3 feet to my right, flying ping pong balls inches to my left, and no clear boundaries or stopping points in sight.
Since ‘selling out’ and joining a larger company, I’ve discovered that innovation can still happen in highly controlled environments. In fact, Tim Brown of IDEO says constraints, when set appropriately, drive innovation. Ideas develop based on the strict parameters provided (needs, resources, time, size, impact etc). They range from simple process tweaks to larger strategic initiatives. Sometimes they exist more as improvements than complete recreations, but it’s still innovation. Was not the iPhone a mere ‘smart’ improvement from the generic cell phone?
Entrepreneurship takes many forms. I used to think it didn’t count unless you worked at a startup, or bootstrapped your company out of a garage. Many of my friends are involved with side projects. My best friend has a popular fashion blog, another friend designs 3D bracelets. There’s Melissa who writes a vegetarian food blog after hours, and a stellar sister duo creating modern-day versions of global dolls. None of them are dropping out of college or quitting their jobs. Silicon Valley’s ‘fuck it all, wear your hoodie, strike it rich’ narrative is just a tale, not a template for day-to-day entrepreneurship.
The spirit to create lives in all of us, but the conditions (and constraints) needed to thrive vary from person to person. For now, I’m happy innovating from within.