THE BLOG

Build a Rocket, Boys!

28/03/2013 16:23 GMT | Updated 26/05/2013 10:12 BST

We're living in an era where there's a prevailing sense that it's more fulfilling, challenging and exciting to start up your own company, nail some funding and launch something into the world that's going to make a difference, rather than climbing through the ranks of a large corporate.

So what if you've worked for a major company for a while and that's what's really defined your career? How do you make a difference in the world and do something stimulating when all around you is organisational politics, chains of command and hierarchy? Of course, not all corporates are like this but it is a perceived stereotype. What's now the 'playbook' for making your own career more interesting?

Imagine you've been at a large company for about 15 years. You've come up through the ranks as a bright young graduate and started to lead teams, get budgetary responsibility and become part of influential committees whom, mostly, you respected.

You're the sort of person who believes in treating everyone fairly, giving the benefit of the doubt and offering support where you can. In so doing, you've been able to build a network of great colleagues, some of them great friends.

However, you're itchy. You've been following the interesting developments in technology and telecommunications over the years, seen the fallout of the first dotcom bubble, the rise of social networks, mobile computing, web 2.0 and the complete democratisation of business. You'd love to grab a bit of this action, but for a host of valid reasons you don't want to jump ship - you've reached a stage where you have the ear of the board.

Over dinner one weekend, one of your colleagues suggests you just go for it - spot where your company could make a difference and offer yourself as the person to do something about it. You start to have meetings about how your company could change things in mobile because you have strong opinions about where your company is currently losing out. You rapidly discover that no-one else has much of a handle on it and they're increasingly looking to you for the answer.

It gets to the stage where one day you ask for funding to find a small team. You're trusted with a good network and the seniors agree. You've done your research so know how the startup scene operates and you've got a feeling that your company needs to do some small-scale seedcorn-funded prototyping before it commits resource.

You assemble a team of four people, including someone with the aptitude of a product manager (it's not a skill your company has on tap) and a smart developer who knows how to pull strings and get things through the corporate machine. A few short weeks and some hard work later, you've got yourself a prototype of how your company could make waves in mobile.

As it happens, one of your company's biggest competitors has stolen a march by launching something very publicly so your senior team is suddenly extremely interested in what you're doing. They agree to give you significant funding and they buy the prototype with very few questions asked. They also ask for commitment to a date when you'll launch something in market.

Now you have to hit the deadline, grow the team, speak to potential customers and perhaps more pressingly, make progress financially. Your team grows and so does the challenge. How do you make sure that everyone now shares this vision? You find yourself nurturing the team and find that after a few weeks; people are almost as driven as you are.

People are now calling you directly to ask if they can join your team. You hear rumours that your team is now the interesting place to be within the company - the place where people aspire to work. Someone draws an analogy between you and Abraham Lincoln, which feels a little odd. Where the great President used to talk about international diplomacy 'speak softly and carry a big stick', your colleague tells you that it's more like 'speak softly, be passionate and share your vision, and you won't need to carry a big stick'.

In a few short months, you reach launch date with the first 'minimum viable product' your organisation has ever called by that name - and it's a success. The mobile service you take to market doesn't do everything you hoped it would but you have a plan to enhance it. You've also involved customers in the process and taken their feedback on board. For the business, it's an important marketing tool, as well as a new way of framing what the company does.

The product is showing early signs of smashing all the metrics you established. Through sheer force of personality, hard work and genuinely standing for something new, you changed an entire culture and got people to raise their horizons. You didn't need to jack it all in and create a startup, you did it by staying put and by standing for something.

If this all sounds a bit utopian, it's actually not. I haven't said what the company does or what the individual I've just described is called, simply because both are real. With Fjord, I'm working right now for this company - and this individual - on a project that is a few months away from launch (so I did make up the bit about launch success!) It's an inspiring experience working with this individual, and one day, I'd love to be able to re-write this post using their actual name. In the meantime, this is meant to inspire the majority of us who work for major companies and have the possibility to do something that makes a difference, while staying put and changing things from within.