The often artificial distinction between a “corporate” work style and the more fanciful “start-up” style is at least an entertaining way to evaluate the potential for productivity. The archetypal imagery dates back to at least the 1970s, when the proto-tech work ethic was just coming into conflict with the way their fathers did things. Probably the most famous example of this contrast was Apple vs. IBM, which culminated in one of the most famous television commercials of all time.
That said, the “corporate” way of doing things has its advantages. Were it not at least somewhat effective, the counterculture movement would have had no opponent by which to measure its achievements.
One thing corporations do with tremendous consistency is document everything. While this can often result in a lot of paper with very little of value printed on it, the practice of reducing institutional knowledge to a form that can be stored, indexed and referenced later is useful and does add to the resiliency and strength of any company, even if it may only have a handful of employees.
It sounds boring, but the practice of “making everything the same” suits a lot of companies that might otherwise careen from one distraction to another in the course of a work day. Making money is a mechanical thing. It is rarely creative, and even if a windfall results from some whimsical idea, corporations will immediately lock it down into something that can be replicated on a regular basis so bills can get paid and shareholders can hit their share price targets and get their dividends.
Even though there are voluminous examples of corporations so large they can’t keep track of what they own, there are plenty of other examples of enterprises that know how to exploit their assets. Large companies with brilliant employees almost always have some method of recognizing patentable technologies, works that are eligible for copyright, and so forth. This is crucial for small companies, as even one valuable IP asset could make the difference between success and failure.
Corporate culture has its place in industry, to be sure. The key is to find the balance between entrepreneurial energy and big company stability. Properly managed, those two complementary forces can help guide a company through its entire growth cycle and secure its value for both its founders and future shareholders.