Sowing seeds of destruction

John Hagel’s Labour Day manifesto calls for institutions to change and embrace the “passionate creativity” of workers.

Twentieth century institutions are not succeeding in the twenty-first century as new infrastructures take hold. They must change or they will slowly shrink into shadows of what they once were and make way for a new generation of institutions more suited to the harnessing the potential of these new infrastructures.

Meanwhile, back in institutional reality c. 2009, Andrew McAfee’s book on Enterprise 2.0 has been delayed for six months by Enterprise 1.0. Will we see institutions voluntarily changing their business models and then getting on with the new order of business? I strongly doubt it and don’t know of many historical examples of this kind of organizational adaptation. IBM managed a significant shift from products to services and Microsoft embraced the Internet before it was too late, with Internet Explorer. But many industry leaders were originally upstarts in their field. Ford didn’t come out of the carriage industry, Google wasn’t built by a telecom, Amazon did not grow out of a book store, and Craigslist wasn’t into newspaper classifieds. These companies changed the game by building a new playing field. New business models require different organizational DNA and this is doubly true for new management models.

How many consultants and experts are selling the idea that a hierarchical industrial-model organization can tweak a few things and then adapt to a two-way flow of power and authority based on information, knowledge, trust and credibility? With leadership that is willing to cede control, some organizations will successfully transform, but I think that most will fail. It’s more likely that enterprise 2.0 initiatives will excite some passionate creatives in the organization but when this fails they will leave and either start up or work for a 2.0 competitor. In this way, many organizations will sow the seeds of their own demise, but in the long run that will be a good thing.

5 Responses to “Sowing seeds of destruction”

  1. Howard Johnson

    I recently listen to a Harvard Bus. podcast about innovation. They claimed IBM succeeded because, instead of reforming their mainframe business model, they went to another location and started a micro-computer competitor, and then did the same for their PC business. Not sure if this applies to their switch to service, but it probably gave them a wealth of knowledge.

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  2. Virginia Yonkers

    I think what you are describing though is a change in organizational culture, not just structure. And unfortunately, culture takes time to change or a crisis for those within the organization to accept change. An example of this is GE (not one of my favorite companies) who changed culture by laying off a good portion of their work force, moving their head quarters, and hiring new members to create a totally new culture to fit their new organization.

    Companies like HP had a culture of change so they were more open to new cultural changes, but it still took people at the top to allow for this change.

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  3. Jon Husband

    An example of this is GE (not one of my favorite companies) who changed culture by laying off a good portion of their work force, moving their head quarters, and hiring new members to create a totally new culture to fit their new organization.

    They called him Neutron Jack (sung to the tune of “hey-ho, hey-ho, it’s off to work I go”).

    😉

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