Chat with Sir Charles Dunstone (Pt. 2)
Staying with the question around whether his Entrepreneurial tendencies were a product of his family and upbringing… Charles went on further to say that he wasn’t so much influenced by his parents, his Dad had worked at an Oil company rather than any family owned business; but his dad had worked hard to answer all his questions and explore things with him as a child. I think there’s some serious value to this. The time his dad had invested in exploring business ideas and figuring out how businesses worked must have provided some really valuable and solid foundations for what was to come in Charles’ later life.
Next we started to discuss big business and the problems that come from growth and expansion. Charles made a point of saying that he’s spent his life trying to make things simple. However, as he rightly put it, quite often it’s the case that the bigger businesses get, the stupider and more cumbersome they become. It’s easy to see how, with the increase in people, departments and business functions, that it’s just impossible to scale and somehow avoid the complexity that comes with it.
I like what Charles had to say about this, and how it contrasted with the relative simplicity of a startup business. In a startup for instance, if there are maybe just a handful of people founding and running the business, then they’d likely all have perfect knowledge. That is, good sight and knowledge of what each person is doing and what was going on in all areas of the business. In that scenario, whenever a decision is made, it is made on the basis of knowing everything and in full sight of what the other team members are doing. Now, contrast that to a large corporate and good luck making a decision in one corner of the business without knowing what’s going on anywhere else! It seems that with growth, higher staff levels and segmentation into different business silos, decision making can quickly become cumbersome and slow. Charles likened it to trying to make something big out of meccano, with everyone and each team making a different bit, but out of sight of what everyone else is doing – if that’s the case, then the whole thing can quickly come to be a disaster when you try bring it all together in the same place.
This whole task of making sure that all your business teams and functions are communicating, working in sight of each other and cross-functionally; it really does become more and more critical the larger your organisation becomes. It’s easy to see then, why big companies often deploy dedicated change and transformation teams, programme managers and the like, to sit across their business functions and govern the melee to keep the whole business aligned, on track and moving in the right direction.
To sum up this part of the discussion, Charles said that (successful) Entrepreneurship, and in particular with regards to technology – is all about simplicity! The hard part is trying to keep everyone focused on why you do what you do, the principles and the values – and it’s these things that can often get lost in bigger businesses.