Leadership in the software business is a funny thing. While some, including popular analyst firms, think leadership is a key factor, there is an inconvenient truth: Leadership in software, especially with today’s pace of change, more likely means you’ve grown successful enough to prevent any real innovation from taking place. Put another way, what you’ve become adept at doing…what you reward your people for executing (thereby reinforcing its continuation) is just as likely the next thing to be disrupted.
Looking back at leaders of the past, it is a trail littered with the corpses of companies that dominated the landscape right up until they collapsed like Rome in the 5th Century. Wang, AOL (not dead, but dying), Silicon Graphics, Magnavox, Palm, Sun (yes, alive but nothing like before), and my childhood favorite, Commodore. They were influential companies that brought amazing innovations to the world, only to lose their way.
Given the history of leadership, and with the notable exception of Apple, leading isn’t the same as cornering the market on pork bellies. Companies that grow rich often outgrow their ability to govern themselves. In response they hire bureaucrats and non-risk takers, only to find themselves bloated and slow.
It is an old pattern, but noticeable in a term of years instead of decades in the fast-changing world of software. As BPMRedux puts it, “We need the medium and smaller vendors to continue to push the envelope of innovation because sometimes they take the risks the bigger guys don’t.”
Having been with big and not-so-big, I can speak from experience that the spirit, flexibility and risk tolerance of smaller companies makes them more fun, interesting and rewarding. Ultimately, it makes them less risky than the giants that will never recognize the end coming.