What hapens when a company, which started off as innovative, flexible, and passionate, becomes “professional” as we understand it today? When it grows, and matures, and ulimately puts in place those “structures” and “processes” which seem to be the thing to do?
The same thing that happened, according to Toynbee, to civilizations. They begin to decline.
In the very least, these changes will bring about an inability to positively and creatively react to changes in the competitive environment – as Toynbee would say: to step up and positively respond to challenge and response situations. What helps make civilizations, and companies, great, is the ability to adapt, respond, and overcome challenges with amazing responses – solutions that work, and which improve the former status quo.
I’d argue that once “maturity” happens, a switch from focusing and nurturing creativity and an entrepreneurial attitude – to one of “big company bureaucracy” occurs, and it’s potentially impossible to respond positively to challenges. At thsi point, responses that work actually require massive restructuring, rethinking, and removal of at least some of these bureaucratic beliefs – along with a re-focusing on the customer. Which, until now, had been largely forgettn by the giant corporation. Think IBM – they almost crashed and burned a few times, only to be reborn after some deep soul-searching.
You see, these “best practices” are actually old beliefs, held over from ages past, and they are typically founded on fear. They were put in place during an age when we tried to make humans act like corporate slaves; robots to be subjected to time-and-motion studies and efficieny of movements.
Ultimately, they spark fear, create inneficiencies (the opposite of what we’re told they do), and create silos and barriers within the organization. They mark the beginning of the end of a company, however long that end might take to arrive.
Toynbee argued that, depending on the original strength and size of a country, the actual decline can take a very, very long time. Think Rome. The same notion can be applied to companies – once they apex, it can be a long, and slow, end. Imagine Kodak.
Take a look around at every large company. By and large, as soon as they diminish the importance of culture, they apex and begin to decline. I’d say Google has hit that apex already. It used to be like Microsoft, in the beginning: Google was cool. Now… it’s lost it. Speaking of Microsoft, it’s at a cross-roads. It hit the apex, it’s on a slow decline, and it has to either wake up, shrug off the tyranny of bureaucracy, or continue it’s long slow slip into irrelevance.
What can be done?