Think Action Not Problems

The head of nation's top public health agency announced a shake-up of the organization, intended to make it nimbler. It is a shame more organizations don’t do self-inspections and change. While the report recognized the excellence and scientific strength of the agency, they had the guts to identify that it needed to be more responsive, communicative and action orientated.  Some changes which should apply to many organizations include:  Develop actionable data in reports rather than scientific code reporting; Focus on actionable understandable data that is clear and easy to find; Reduce response time; develop an executive counsel to set strategy and priorities; Reduce layers, increase communication; Get rid of silos.  

The CDC is simply brave enough to recognize what other businesses and public organizations should: old paradigms and structures are failing:

  •  Large corporate structures, like print publications, big banks, and brick and mortar retailers, are all gradual losers, or even worse. With little real attention to these changing trends and other factors, poor performance of many organizations is virtually a given.
  • What is most distressing is that it is the structure of these organizations that produces much of the results, rather than the typical organizational and financial discussions. For instance, the long-held propositions that bigness advantages, like economies of scale and utilizing expertise and marketing synergies, are simply false in many cases.
  • Rather, these organizations like the CDC will not change until they recognize that:


  1. First, many large companies have tunnel vision, organizational constraints, etc., and ignore emerging technologies and opportunities.
  2. Second, they lack the flexibility to respond to the needs of the market and use outdated solutions to new problems.
  3. Third, they fail to allow the vision, entrepreneurship, and risk necessary to succeed, while heaping huge income growth on unproductive leaders.  

What is even more perplexing is that we continue to ignore some proven models of success. Walter Isaacson noted years ago in The Innovators, about how the digital, computer and internet revolution required new approaches. 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. 

This is in direct contrast to the hierarchical structure of most traditional organizations (and especially Wall Street) whose priorities are primarily money and greed. The technology examples provide numerous opportunities for 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.

o  Reducing layers and creating professional cultures are a start. Boards and management need to split up organizations, spinoffs, or create more independent groups. That may be what’s really necessary to maximize the potential of both individuals and organizations.  

o  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.  

o  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. Simple research studies, social media, and other devices are additional tools.
  • Simple management involvement through tools, which might include just walking around or “how am I doing?” also work.
  • You need a commitment to open communication. One of the investors on the “Shark Tank” TV program had simple advice for an entrepreneur who wouldn’t stop talking:  Stop talking and listen 
  • Open systems and collaboration are like winning the trifecta at the horse track 
  • What is emerging today as a potential solution is the acceptance and reliance upon open systems and collaboration.  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.
  • One of the biggest outcomes from open systems is the collaborative decision model. As decisions become more complex, the need for diversity, internationalism, innovation, and expertise are expanded. Again, collaboration, and things like “open source” programming, are among the key factors in the success of the digital revolution. 
  • New paradigms for success 

These new paradigms: cooperation, smaller can be better, and open collaborative systems, offer great hope for organizations including the CDC and others. While they involve new approaches to problems, the solutions are readily available. What’s needed is to allow our organizations to be effective. To do so involves providing opportunity and education. 

Related: Little Steps: Less Exciting but More Productive