Kill Your Business to Keep it Alive! Organisational Implosion for Post-Innovation Survival.
Kill Your Ideas Early
In a blog post by Peter Diamandis last weekend, he gave some hot tips on how to organise creativity. The advice is based on his work with semi-secret R&D facility Google X, or X as it’s called now.
It’s an interesting read, and there was particularly one section which grabbed my attention. Principle 2: Try to Kill Your Best Ideas Early.
According to Diamandis, we need to kill ideas as soon as possible. Because we don’t want to waste resources, time, money and people on ideas that won’t work.
This makes sense to many of us who love ideas and ideation, but become bored once we need to act on them.
But for me Diamandis’ principle triggered another thought. Can this principle of killing ideas be applied in a larger context?
Kill Your Organisation
An organisation is also an idea.
An idea, which usually exists for a long time. But it’s still an idea. Google was originally an idea to catalogue all the world’s information. Twitter is the simple idea to let people write instant 140-character blog posts. Uber is an idea to let everyone be a taxi driver.
These ideas seem to work. Most people even consider them to be good ideas. They’ve obviously inspired and helped many many people and made a dent in the universe as Steve Jobs put it. The companies threw out these ideas from the drawing board into the global marketplace to see if they worked. And they did. Or rather, they seem to work today.
But if we take a longer perspective, we don’t know if they actually are good ideas. They might be considered bad ideas in hindsight. Or even destructive.
In the 19th century we humans began to drill oil. This seemed like a great idea at the time. The black gold helped modernize societies and our living standard increased vastly. But now we know that this idea wasn’t that good after all. Unintended consequences, which were unknown back then, has damaged our planet enormously — and together with mining of other non-renewables — perhaps so much that it will become uninhabitable soon.
Standard Oil and other organisations, which were founded on the idea to remove oil from the ground and sell it, are now rapidly being killed. By lack of innovation, external pressures, a change in values, shareholder fear etc.
Kill your organisation! shout the anti-oil and gas protesters who are now after COP21 backed by the majority of the world’s politicians and more and more investors.
Innovation is Dead
Diamandis’ creative / destructive principle of killing ideas also made me think about how to generally “do” innovation these days.
I’m actually pretty fed up with the word innovation. There are so many ways to innovate, so many books, blogs and consultants who help organisations innovate. So many…. no, too many people talk about innovation.
I think it’s time to cut the crap and be really innovative. I think the best way — or perhaps the only way — to innovate is to actually extrapolate Diamandis’ principle and kill organisations from within. Before external pressures (like those mentioned above) will kill an organisation, an organisation should kill itself.
Let me explain.
One of the buzz words of the past decade (since Clayton Christensen wrote the book The Innovator’s Dilemma) is disruption. Digital disruption, disruptive innovation, disruptive everything. How to avoid being disrupted. Disrupt or be Disrupted! 8 ways to avoid getting disrupted within your industry. Blah blah blah…
I believe that the only way to avoid being disrupted is to disrupt yourself. Innovation is dead. Implosion is the way forward. A slow implosion if you want your organisation to survive.
Nine Principles for Organisational Implosion
So how do you disrupt yourself? Because I think it’s only the organisations which manage to do this that will survive in the future. Here are my nine principles:
1. Make the decision that your organisation is obsolete.
First you must realize that your organisation will be disrupted and die. If you don’t do this already, start by researching and reading. Douglas Rushkoff and Jeremy Rifkin are good for instance. When readning books you have shied away from, you will realize that your organisational structures are wrong. Your culture is wrong. Your staff are great people, but there is no place for that greatness in your organisation. As soon as people come in the door on Monday morning they enter another state of mind. Sure, you encourage creativity and push for a new innovation culture, but the structures and systems in place won’t tolerate this. Too many people will try to stifle it. It’s too dangerous. It will rock the boat so that it capsizes.
So first you have to deeply believe in that your organisation will be disrupted. This is not 2006. Disruption happens much faster today. So you will make the decision that your organisation is obsolete. Most CEOs won’t / can’t do this, so you’re ahead of the game if you do it now.
2. Launch the Organisational Implosion.
Once you’ve convinced the few people in power that you are history, decide that you will attempt organisational implosion. Most organisations won’t do this so will be disrupted and die at this principle.
3. Create a parallel organisation on the edge.
And now for the real innovation.
Once you’ve let go of your organisation, you’ve left it behind, and truly realized that it has no reason to live, you shift your focus on a new organisation at the edge of the old one. There is quite a lot of literature on this work, for example by John Hagel, @ScottDAnthony, Gary P. Pisano and Prof. Thomas Schildhauer. Literature on how to set up a space / lab / experimental unit in parallel to your organisation is easy to find.
To do this, you basically start from scratch and look at the problems and challenges you want to solve. What was the original purpose of the organisation? What could we do to make this happen instead of the old useless way?
Of course it’s impossible for you to answer these questions as your leaders and staff work in the old tired organisation, and hence don’t see fresh ideas with a beginner’s mind.
You need new blood.
4. Put new people in charge of the new.
So the only way to create a parallel organisation on the edge is to let new or fresh employees loose. Let them experiment. It’s the only hope you have. Hire new interesting people who you’d never hire in the old organisation. Then let go of control. You might as well, as you will die if you don’t. It’s either new blood or death.
5. Suck out the blood from the old dying organisation, purify it, and inject it into the new.
This is hard.
The aim of this exercise is to move as many people as possible from the old to the new organisation. Most people are not ready to move. So one of the tasks for the new organisation is to educate the hesitating people so that they can take the leap. Why do we need to implode? Why can’t we just continue business-as-usual in the old organisation? Most people will not be able to shift their mindset, and hence cannot thrive (or even survive) in the new organisation. A landing pad must be built. Upsetting but still safe experiences must be designed. Provocations followed by reassuring activities are key.
6. Clear Goals.
The only goal of your organisational implosion is to close down the old organisation asap. Nothing else really.
7. Pull, Don’t Push
Don’t ever explicitly try to push people from the old space to the new. They will come when they’re ready. If they’re ready… Some people will never move. They cannot or do not want to shift to the new. Retrenchment programs and costs will be a heavy burden for you.
8. Don’t Bring Them Back!
Here’s a thing that most organisations don’t get, but that you must understand: When people jump from the old to the new, they cannot be expected to come back and operate within the old one. Once they have made the leap and changed their thinking, learnt the new way, opened their minds, gone through the dark night of the soul, the catharsis etc, they will not identify with their old role. So don’t ask them or expect them to share or implement their learnings back in the old organisation.
No, what they learn in the new space on the edge will be used only in the new space. If it would be used in the old organisation, it might help that entity survive longer. And that’s exactly against principle 6 — the goal of implosion is to kill the old organisation asap.
Many organisations struggle to implement or embed knowledge they gain through hiring outside consultants, sending staff to external learning and development programs, letting staff work in open innovation hubs such as coworking spaces etc. Why this fail is obvious. Knowledge, understanding, insight and wisdom and other “content”, which is new and fresh, should not be stored in a container that is old, rusty and falling apart. This might have been the case before — McKinsey and others might have helped organisations over the years do this, but it won’t work any more. Organisational implosion must come from within.
9. Give Them a Home
A physical space where people can build the new organisation will speed up the process. Physical interaction and experimentation, which is kept separate from the old organisation is important. Buy them a big old house at the other side of town. Don’t give them bean bags, ping-pong tables and fixed-gear bikes though. They can decide what to buy themselves. A free innovation space like this is impossible to control. The new people might waste all your money and sink your ship. But that’s a risk you’ll have to take. So give them a home.
Organisational implosion is obviously an incremental exercise. A gradual shift of power and people from the old to the new. The old organisation must of course still run the old business, which pays for it all, but that can be done with less people as you know.
I strongly believe that organisational implosion is the only cure for disruption. In order to survive the ongoing slaughter of weak organisations, you have to disrupt yourself. No matter whether you’re disrupted by the digital, by Silicon Valley behemoths, by new values or by your own idiocy.
Organisational implosion is the new innovation. And a hell of a lot more fun.