In defence of the day job

“I’ve seen far more creativity in large firms than in start-ups.”

If you ask most people around these parts you’ll soon reach the conclusion that if you’re not working at a startup you’re creatively bankrupt. A sold-out, moribund wretch in need of inspiration, life learning, a little hand-holding, a burst of creativity and a massive injection of VC cash. Here are some common misconceptions of the “Nine-to-Five”:

1. It’s uncreative

I’ve seen far more creativity in large firms than in start-ups. Start-ups tend to follow a defined model mainly geared towards achieving funding and marketing a product. Any focus aside from the product, the marketing or the funding is likely to be discouraged — startups do not have the funds to waste pursuing unrelated ideas.

Larger firms on the other hand will often have specific R&D teams, or at least allow creativity “in-role”. More mature firms are likely to have the ability to fund different ideas and support those who use some of their working time to undertake new projects. It’s not just the Alphabets of the world with their moonshot projects and “20% time” that do this. Even the stuffiest Investment Banks will encourage teams to pursue their own ideas and start projects under their own initiative. This is why in most job specifications you will see required skills such as “innovative”, “problem solver” or “self-starter.”

2. It’s risk-free

“Startups by and large are doomed to fail.”

The idea that something that is risk-free is bad or boring is self-evidently incorrect, but let’s grant it for the purpose of this argument. Instead let’s focus on whether it is, or is not, risky.

Startups are, by and large, doomed to fail. Mostly these are startups are Limited Liability companies rather than Unlimited Partnerships for this very reason. The founders and employees can only lose the capital they put in (and their jobs).

Employees of larger, mature firms are not asked to put up any seed capital. However, they will often have a great deal of financial exposure to their place of work. Many firms, particularly in the Finance sector but also in areas as diverse as Retail and Oil Exploration, will pay a portion of variable compensation in shares issued by the company. Employees will also have been encouraged to undertake a discounted “share-savings” style scheme in which they are encouraged to place a portion of their savings in shares with some quantity of shares matched by the employer. Those who have been at the firm longest, those most in contrast with the startup founder, will likely have accumulated a good deal of shares in their employer.

But aside from financial exposure and the risk of losing a job, there is the greater risk of being seen to fail. This is something that many, most even, dread despite knowing that failure is often a necessary element of later success. Startups carry the weight of the expectation of failure, but this means when a startup fails no one is surprised. There may be a sense of shared disappointment but no one can honestly say that they were unprepared for the scenario. When a mature firm fails, particularly a large one, or when one loses their job through redundancy or termination, the feeling is far more acute. The idea of a stable job for life has subconsciously persisted longer than its reality.

3. It’s nine-to-five

You won’t hear of a successful startup where the founder and early team rocked up and nine and clocked-off at five. The ethos will be: “work hard, play hard.”

The same goes at traditional, established firms. You will not see any successful executive at any major firm who has not committed her time and energy to producing results.

It’s also not often a case of working hard to secure a promotion as opposed to working hard to change the world. Often the busy executive will work hard to improve things on their own out of a sheer desire to be better and enjoy the pleasure of running a successful team. You don’t need to start-up a sports team to have the pleasure of managing one to victory.

4. Playing safe and saving is unfulfilling

Throwing all of your financial assets into a highly risky startup is great fun if you’re young and poor. Re-mortgaging your house, taking out a personal loan and throwing your childrens’ savings into a start-up is less fun.

People in the real-world have responsibilities and sometimes the probabilities don’t favour investing in a startup. That’s why you’ll see specialist VC firms undertaking these investments rather than retail investors or pension funds.

Startups can be great fun, and can yield huge successes (and failures). That it is inherently better, more fulfulling or more creative is a myth. Whichever option you choose, if you pursue it with gusto, will ultimately yield its own rewards. It is possible to achieve success, excitement and above all happiness wherever you choose to work.

Matthew Grint is not a life coach, serial entrepreneur, public speaker, lifestyle consultant, Twitterer, writer or developer. He can, however, be reached at

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