The Death Star… and your Organization

According to Neil deGrasse Tyson, the Death Star is an accurate representation of how to blow up a planet. He explained the science of it during an episode of his podcast, Star Talk, when asked if it could be used by a listener, to say… blow up Mars.

Hypothetically, yes. Planets are essentially a collection of mass held together by some amount of energy. The Death Star works by generating its own energy then infusing it into a planet. If more energy than the amount that is holding all of that mass together is infused into the planet too quickly — boom. That’s the simple science of an explosion.

Like planets, organizations are a collection of mass held together by some amount of energy. In this context, the mass of an organization is the capacity of the systems and the people that make the organization operate, and energy, the volume of business and demand for its products and services in a certain amount of time.

The bottom line: Too much business in a short amount of time without increased capacity to absorb it and your organization will explode.

The capacity of systems and people must grow as business and demand increases. In order for an organization to remain stable, its systems and its people must respond to the amount of business it does.

The opposite is also true. Too little business — too much money going out — and an organization implodes. In this case, there’s not enough energy to hold it together. It’s this scenario that many organizations are primarily concerned with — keeping the lights on.

Keeping the lights on is, of course, very important — you also need to avoid the Death Star.

The rate at which to invest in and increase capacity of your systems and your people can be hard to calculate for a growing organization. A client recently explained this situation to me in terms of the feeling that they are “too big to be small, and too small to be big.” I’ve talked to many business owners and executives that share this sentiment.

This challenge is clearly visible in businesses that experience high volumes at certain times of the year. Consider retail. The holiday season is now a month behind us and I imagine that many owners, managers, and staff are still feeling fatigued and are scrambling to restock the shelves while they wait for product to be delivered.

Of course other companies and industries experience this as well.

Creative agencies often get hot and must increase their capacity quickly to handle an influx of new business.

A sudden increase in demand for new products can trigger this experience as well.

The people at Gimlet Media touched on this in a recent episode of their podcast, StartUp. “Burnout” describes their experience hustling to meet the demand for podcasts and increase their capacity in the process.

There’s a huge gravitational force in the podcast galaxy right now as it pulls more and more organizations into orbit. Those that will succeed will increase their capacity to meet the demand.

There are three ways to increase the capacity of your organization. By investing in:

1. People — Employees.

2. Human Systems — The ways you organize, culture, teams, structure.

3. Technical Systems — Software, physical space, machines.

Start with your people. They give you the most leverage as business and demand increases. Their increased abilities, competencies, and capacity will inform and ensure successful integration of new human and technical systems that often are disruptive and take time. Their increased understanding will allow them to see and overcome barriers and forecast the market to know when increased demand is on its way.

A huge volume of business sounds like a great problem to have. It’s true — increased business does give you more options. But too much growth without the capacity to handle the increased volume of business and you run the risk of ending up like Alderaan.*

Don’t be like Alderaan.

* This in no way is the beginning of my attempt to write Star Wars fan fiction.

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