Have you ever asked a question only to receive the dreaded, “Because I said so,” response? This is often a phrase repeated to children, but even adults are prone to hear things like, “Because this is the way we’ve always done it.” If you’ve been on the receiving end of these statements, you know that they are never satisfactory explanations to questions. They’re a cop out—a way to evade the underlying issues and, perhaps, an unintentional admission of one’s fear of change or refusal to embrace innovation. And, that is exactly how we get stuck in patterns that don’t work within systems that are unwilling to adopt new structural paradigms—even when it’s the obvious answer.
Many people, myself included, have been writing on this topic for 5-10 years—reiterating time and again that our economy is dramatically changing and many analysts are ignoring the consequences. What is even more perplexing is that we continue to ignore some proven models of success.Several years ago, Walter Isaacson wrote in The Innovators about the impact of technology, the digital computer, and Internet revolution. These trends have only accelerated in recent years. One of the most interesting themes is the commitment, diversity, collaboration, and even friction, among diverse participants in almost every phase of the revolution, such as Jobs and Wozniak or Gates and Allen.
The results of this technological shift are evident in a comparison of stock performance of traditional companies versus newer tech companies. The stocks of P&G, I.B.M., G.E., Coca Cola, Dupont, and AT&T have DECLINED an average of 8% annually over the last 5 years. In contrast, the price growth of companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon has increased at a rate of 24% annually. This trend is also evidenced by G.E. and other huge companies’ recent decision to dissolve their outdated structure.
To put that in perspective: investing $100,000 in the traditional companies 5 years ago, would be worth about $66,000 today. Investing $100,000 in the tech companies 5 years ago would be worth about $300,000 today.
Financial advisors also seem to be reluctant to embrace this shift. For example, much of their discussions focus on bonds versus stocks rather than tech stocks versus industrial or value stocks.
It’s really no surprise that so many businesses are failing considering both society and business refuse to recognize that old paradigms and structures are already obsolete or are well on their way. For example:
- Large corporate structures (like print publications and brick and mortar retailers) are all gradual losers, or worse.
- Companies as well as society continue to do what they have done in the past, often with poor results. Despite massive economic and political efforts, issues like income inequality, healthcare, and infrastructure investment will continue to hold back our economy.
- With little real attention to these changing trends, the poor performance of many organizations is virtually a given.
Even more distressing is that it’s the structural paradigms of these organizations producing much of the deficient results, rather than the typical financial discussions. For instance, the long-held propositions that business advantages, like economies of scale and utilizing expertise and marketing synergies, are simply false in many cases. Rather, these and other former industry leaders are failing because of the following limitations:
- Many large companies have tunnel vision, organizational constraints, etc., and ignore emerging technologies and opportunities.
- They lack the flexibility to respond to the needs of the market and use outdated solutions to new problems.
- They fail to allow the vision, entrepreneurship, and risk necessary to succeed, while heaping huge income growth on unproductive leaders.
In contrast, new structural paradigms are providing numerous opportunities for successful change:
- The success of smaller, more innovative companies shows that many organizations should get smaller (or act smaller) in order to effectively deal with today’s environment.
- Reducing layers and creating professional cultures are a start. Boards and management need to split up organizations like G.E., create spinoffs, or implement more independent groups. That may be what’s really necessary to maximize the potential of both individuals and organizations.
- Large organizations say they want excellence, entrepreneurship, innovation, risk-takers, etc., but, really, they tend to encourage mediocrity. For example, short-term goals and reviews for both organizations and individuals actually inhibit the development of more positive cultural characteristics, rather than spur them on.
- Testing and failure, which are critical parts of innovation, are punished more than rewarded. Even sound risk-taking is reduced because of the fear of repercussions within the organization. In short, organizations frequently ignore the advice, “you can’t score if you don’t take a shot.”
- Organizations need to be open to measurement and feedback. Looking, understanding, and sharing financials, operations reports, and sales reports are the first step towards embracing new structural paradigms. Simple research studies, social media, and other devices are additional tools.
- Open systems and collaboration are like winning the trifecta at the horse track. Open systems have been around for a long time but are becoming the norm for success. They reject bureaucracy, authority, hierarchy, and closed decision-making processes. They encourage participation, diversity, new rules, and to some extent, chaos.
These new structural paradigms, cooperation, smaller can be better, and open collaborative systems, offer great hope for organizations. While they rely on innovative approaches to problems, the solutions are readily available. Therefore, once we acknowledge that different strategies are needed, we can implement new tactics, provide opportunity and education, and allow our organizations to be effective.
I strenuously argue that if we do not learn to accept and accommodate innovation and deviant behavior both inside and outside of organizations, we cannot change or achieve excellence.