I read a great article in Forbes today, and I have to say that it’s totally spot-on! The article discussed a British historian, named Troybee, who wrote prolifically on the rise and fall of civilizations. I hadn’t heard of Toynbee’s work on countries before, but he’s basically saying that:
“… civilization flourishes when it motivates insiders and attracts outsiders with its creative dynamism and culture. The civilization breaks down when its leadership loses this creative capacity and gives way to, or transforms itself into, a dominant minority. When this happens, the driver of the civilization becomes control, not attraction.”
The guest author, Philippe Silberzahn, pointed out that it’s not just countries and civilizations that this process happens to, but to it also occurs in businesses. And he’s right. In the beginning, you’ve got the entrepreneurial start-up. The passionate, excited group of people that have come together to change the world – or if not the world, some little piece of if. They want to make an impact, however small. They’ve invented a new product, or developed an innovation which does something better. Together, they work hard and smart to get it out there in the world. As they become increasingly successful, they grow…and grow…and grow.
And at some point along the journy, they lose that initial spark of passion, energy, and drive.
I believe that we have a set of limiting beliefs regarding management “best practice”, which we’ve largely inherited from the industrial revolution, and which no longer serves the way people want to work today. At all. These beliefs favor control and process as a company grows, rather than a sense of purpose, empowerment, freedom, and creativity.
You hear it said that as your company “grows up” (gets bigger), you need to “become more professional.” What does that mean? Probably things like:
- Tto switch to centralized strategic decision making,
- Create “mature” HR processes,
- Implement strict finance controls and audit procedures,
- Build and stress the overall importance of process (to the extent that it surpasses common sense and freedom),
- Create formal organizational structures (e.g. administration and hierarchy),
- Centralize and standardize procurement,
- …and on and on…
It’s just “what you do.” It’s “Best practice…” But what happens next?