When it comes to acquisitions, there are only two things worth buying: products and customers. When you buy either, you’re buying a solid stream of revenue. All you have to do is not fuck it up. That’s harder than you think, but the good news is that there is room for error. Fuck it up a little and only a few will leave. You still have the entrenched rest to make the purchase pay.
Not so with ideas or talent. These are the purchases of aspiration: Imagine if we took that scrappy idea with those underpaid, hungry champions, and we gave them all the resources in the world. They could paint all the colors of the rainbow and still have pixie dust left to spare!
Turns out that good ideas and strong talent is as fickle as it is seducing. As soon as you start making big-company compromises, the good idea turns average, and the average turns into a write-off.
Same goes with strong talent. As soon as they have to deal with three layers of reporting, quarterly budget cycles, and swing-door managers, they turn off the creativity and head for the exit. The latter part might take from three months to two years, but it will happen.
That leaves the acquisition with nothing but a dusty footnote in the P&L, but don’t worry, nothing will have been learned, so the cycle can repeat next year. There’s always a fresh crop of shiny ideas and sassy talent available to try that-which-does-not-work once more.