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Friday, September 16, 2011

Non-competes are strangling innovation

Non-competes are strangling innovation in the Valley and beyond.

I know some people who stay on top of what's new in the world of tech. Some of them come up with nifty ideas and want to try them out. Unfortunately, they run into a brick wall every time.

The brick wall is a non-compete at a company which has its fingers in every pie imaginable. Even though California has pretty good laws which cover this for the sake of employees, there is still one big mess: areas which your "day job" is already doing.

If your employer is one of these places which goes and tries everything whether it makes sense or not, odds are, any idea you are going to have might be deemed in conflict. This is when they start messing with you. They have you over a barrel and they know it.

So one of my friends submitted an idea to see if it's a conflict.

Did the lawyers say it's clear? Nope.

Did the lawyers say it's a conflict? Nope.

No, they did something far worse: they said "we'll get back to you". My friend is still waiting.

Meanwhile, the original market conditions which would have made it viable have evaporated. The world has changed yet again, and my friend missed it, all because they stalled.

There is a wicked way to wield power over people. First, put yourself in the critical path for decisions they want to make. Require a firm yes or no from you before they can proceed. Then stall. Stall stall stall. They'll go away eventually! Problem solved!

Ridiculous things like this lead to depressed engineers who just sit there and turn the crank on the latest meaningless program which serves online advertisements. How many amazing new things have never gotten beyond an approval e-mail thread because stalls have sucked the life force out of the inventor?

I'm not saying we'd have flying cars by now, but there's a lot of innovation which just is not happening due to stuff like this.