Not long ago, when PetroChem (the disguised name of a major established petrochemical company) acquired a Silicon Valley energy upstart (call it Polymer Plus), the PetroChem leaders found themselves at a loss. They had pursued the acquisition in the first place because Polymer Plus had a more autonomous culture than PetroChem: Its formal rules and informal practices encouraged people to develop their own creative solutions to problems, even if those solutions went against the grain of established practice in the industry. PetroChem’s leaders had hoped that the company would get a cultural boost from acquiring Polymer Plus; their vision was that people across the merged entity would behave in more uninhibited and nimble ways. In short, they wanted the same kind of high-performance culture that they observed in the fastest-growing chemical companies.
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