The company I worked for in the early 1990s made a fortune providing training and courseware materials for what I call "the Great Microsoft Migration.'' Organizations were migrating from WordPerfect to Microsoft Word and from Lotus 1-2-3 to Excel. Everyone was adapting to Bill Gates’ business software empire. However, after everyone had jumped into Microsoft’s arms, only few people still needed training. The company didn’t know how to adapt, so it collapsed.
The struggle to survive in fast-changing environments is nothing new. A global billion-dollar industry of consultants, coaches and writers (me included) assist managers keeping organizations afloat. Help! Our iceberg is melting! We need a blue ocean strategy! Our company should be built to last (or at least built to float)!
Our failed company did a great job exploiting a brief window of opportunity during the Great Microsoft Migration. We had jobs, we helped people, we made money. We fed our families, until it was time to move on because the work was done.
Harvard professor John P. Kotter describes in his new book Accelerate why companies should consider a dual operating system, consisting of a hierarchy to exploit existing opportunities and a network is to seek new opportunities. In a recent interview I had with him, Kotter explained that, in a dual operating system, the organization’s network should help the hierarchy to adapt. But is that sufficient?
The economy is a global network of people building and destroying organizations all the time. Sure, individual companies can adapt, to a certain extent, like mammoths growing less hair and smaller tusks. But no amount of consultants, coaches, writers and change management models can turn a spider into a starfish. There’s a limit to the adaptation of hierarchical designs.
Helping organizations survive is often futile. Little value is generated because the ecosystem as a whole does not benefit from offering life support to zombies. This approach only benefits the makers of life support systems. Societies are better served helping companies die, gracefully. Instead of keeping organizations on life support, we should teach people how to quit and how to restart. The money wasted on ineffective enterprise change-management programs should be diverted to demolition and incubation programs. Don’t save the ship, save the people!
For many companies, a dual operating system is a great intermediate solution. It certainly helped Microsoft running MS-DOS and Windows alongside each other. But real acceleration and innovation can only be achieved when you stop wasting your time upgrading and adapting an outdated hierarchy. Throw out the old OS! After the dual operating system, the next phase is to have just one primary OS: your organization will be a network, with instances of hierarchies created and destroyed on-the-fly, one for each of the big opportunities that it finds, similar to virtual MS-DOS boxes in a big Microsoft cloud.
Unsure how this would work? I’m sure some people will be more than happy to offer training and courseware. I see a big opportunity in this Great Migration to Networked Organizations. Some might even create companies to help you along! And not a tear will be shed when it sinks after everyone is safely on the other side.