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November 09, 2010

Attackers and Defenders

I met with a senior executive at a top 5 bank last week and he said something that has stuck with me all week.  When I asked him why he was interested in pursuing entrepreneurial activities after a nearly 20 year career at one firm, he replied, "I've decided the world is divided between attackers and defenders.  Over the last few years, I've grown tired of being a defender.  I want to be an attacker again."

This observation struck me because I heard it echoed by a senior executive at a top 5 media company who said nearly the exact same thing.  "Over the last 5 years, it's been clear that my job has turned into being a defender.  I want to be an attacker, instead."

There's something very profound about these statements.  First, it shows that the disruptive impact of the Internet and the Digital Age is still cascading throughout our economy.  The transformative power of technology is no longer merely impacting the narrow software industry, it is impacting huge swaths of our global GDP.  Second, there still remains unlocked, unrealized entrepreneurial energy embedded in our big companies.  

When mainstream senior executives are itching to abandon safe jobs for more challenging, dynamic environments, good things are bound to happen.  Ask yourself:  in your industry, are you an attacker or a defender?  And what will happen when thousands more talented people decide it's more fun, and rewarding, to be the former?


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I find it sad that American CEOs think of themselves as attackers and defenders, actually. What happened to creators and builders?

Hm...good point. I think "attackers" is really another way of saying "creating/building in a new, disruptive way.

Good perspective, thanks for sharing. Interesting to hear the same thing coming from different industries. I think typically big company players get these experiences via acquisitions. With most of the big guys sitting on their cash at this point a lot of these rumblings make sense.

I am learning a lot about this from a recent biz dev hire out of the digital music industry, where defending was the name of the game. It's refreshing to see our business through his (energized) eyes.

I've been on that defense side too, in big companies. It feels very impersonal actually, since the tectonic plates are shifting no matter what you do. It's such a contrast to building a startup where your daily actions have dramatic cause and effect.

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Yes – having an impact in a small company,
and the immediate feedback it can provide, is a very powerful thing!

Another flavor


Does the ball play you or do you play the ball?

It is always more fun playing the ball.

Couldn't agree more. As a marketing consultant (and former bulge bracket IB marketing head), I hear this sentiment from many of my financial services and tech clients. I think Mary Meeker's decision to go back to VC roots portends additional moves in this direction...

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