In my career, I’ve chosen to work at larger companies instead of smaller ones. Or maybe, a better way to describe it, is that I have joined small sized businesses that became enormous.
And I was reflecting on the differences.
My favorite game of all time is Civilization II. Some players, like the beginning game:
The point is that you have the fewest pre-existing constraints. You can only make a small number of decisions. And each decision is a matter of life or death. You can very easily get destroyed if you make the wrong choices.
That part of the game is the most intense because every decision is, of course, critical, every moment obviously a life or death moment. You choose to explore a village, and if it turns out to be barbarians and you don’t have an army you lose the game.
In the later phases of the game, you have many cities and an accumulation of decisions. You can quickly destroy other civilizations, build wonders, and typically there is no existential threat. No decision is obviously existential. No crisis is obviously critical.
There are existential threats; they are just not obvious.
The challenge in this part of the game is how to marshall resources and make decisions to win the end-game while ignoring things that are not important.
When you join a large company, you are essentially being given someone else’s Civ game. Your job is to figure out what decisions your predecessors made that are prescient and build on those while figuring out what new decisions need to be made to win.
The funny thing about joining a Civ game in the middle phase is that you may have already lost. Some decisions made early on may have put your civilization in a terrible spot that are only obvious now.
And for many folks, this makes starting a game more attractive than taking on an existing game.
The funny thing is that when you launch a new game, the computer makes decisions for you, and those decisions, when combined with your preferred strategy, will doom you just as much.
The thing about the early part of the game is that when you lose you’re just a historical footnote, a leader of a small tribe. When you lose later on in the game, you may have a large thriving civilization that just didn’t make it to the finish line. You fail as a CEO of 10 person startup, and only your web page records your failure. You fail as the CEO of Yahoo, and it’s front page news on the WSJ.
The later part of the game in Civilization II can be more thrilling. You get to do more stuff, try more things, you are on a bigger stage and you are playing for all of the marbles instead of a chance at all of the marbles.