If there’s one thing organizations need to take away from the recent Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods, it’s that everything can change in an industry in an instant. Last year’s strategic plan and budget can suddenly seem like relics of the past when something fundamentally shifts in a market and competitive landscape. All organizations need operating systems optimized for the kind of uncertain world where an online retailer/internet infrastructure provider/media company can buy one of the largest players in groceries. To live in a world where the unexpected becomes commonplace, organizations need operating systems where responsiveness, fluidity, and innovation are baked into just “how we do things around here.”

Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the reality for most.

How many orgs can absorb a shockwave like Amazon moving firmly into their market and feel confident that they have the processes, people, and policies that will allow them to do what needs to be done to adjust accordingly? Not many. Too many organizations are reliant on a single charismatic leader or a cabal of executives that are somehow supposed to guide the organization through tumult they never even saw coming and are left as surprised as everyone else. Does that fill you with confidence?

Great organizations have flexibility and resilience and responsiveness baked into every fiber of their being. Their hiring processes optimize for people with the right mindset. Their resource allocation processes remain flexible (i.e. not locked into annual cycles). They build teams that come together around solving real problems regardless of organizational hierarchy or politics. They push trust and autonomy to the edges of the organization so that decisions can be made quickly and those who are closest to the customers have the greatest ability to do what’s needed to be done to make or keep those customers happy.

It’s a fundamental shift from how most organizations think about themselves and how they show up in the world.

It’ll be interesting to watch as the volatility inevitably continues to increase. More Amazon/Whole Foods-scale acquisitions, more unpredictable sociopolitical events, and more, “What the hell is happening?” moments will start to separate the orgs who get it from the ones who don’t. The orgs who try to retrench and consolidate power will find themselves brittle and at risk. The orgs who embrace the unpredictable nature of the world and build the capabilities into their system, even if that looks messy or inefficient or unorganized — those are the orgs that will own the future.

I love that my job is helping organizations get ready for that future.


I try to write something (moderately insightful) every day in 30 minutes or less. Have a comment or question? Catch me on Twitter.