3 Stubborn Facts That Business Leaders Need To Accept

Greg Satell
5 min readFeb 24, 2024
Photo by Fred Moon on Unsplash

In the late 90s Fortune magazine named Enron the most innovative company for six consecutive years, right up until the company collapsed in scandal. GE’s strategy of stack ranking was seen as a model to be emulated by other firms, even though there was no evidence it worked. McKinsey advised companies to fight a war for talent.

Today, we know better. It’s obvious that Enron was incredibly dysfunctional, that stack ranking undermines a high-performance culture and that talent is something that you build through upskilling, not something you “win” in a metaphorical war. It’s mind boggling to think of all the damage that was done before those ideas were exposed.

Yet if we accept all that we need to ask ourselves which ideas are widely accepted today that don’t hold water. Every era has its own fictions, things that are accepted because they are repeated, but lack any serious foundation. They become memes replicating themselves throughout the zeitgeist, rarely being questioned. Here are three truths that will surprise you.

1. Bigger Organizations Are More Innovative

We tend to think of innovation as something startups do. Big organizations, with their bloated bureaucracies and cumbersome decision making, are less nimble. Yet a recent book, Corporate Explorer, by Stanford professor Charles O’Reilly, Harvard Professor ​​Paul Lawrence and consultant Andrew Binns finds that larger firms have more resources, talent and ideas.

This may seem surprising, but there is ample evidence supporting the principle that larger enterprises innovate more effectively. A 1969 study of local health departments found that the larger ones serving larger communities were more innovative. A 1986 analysis of footwear manufacturers found that the bigger ones had more technical specialists and adopted more radical innovation. Same thing when researchers looked at German banks’ adoption of telecommunication services.

Clearly startups have advantages. They tend to be less bureaucratic and can make decisions faster. They are also less invested in incumbent systems and technologies, which makes change easier. Yet innovation isn’t just about speed, it’s also about commitment to solving important problems and larger…

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Greg Satell

Co-Founder: ChangeOS | Bestselling Author, Keynote Speaker, Wharton Lecturer, HBR Contributor, - Learn more at www.GregSatell.com