In Malcolm Gladwell’s new bestselling book, David and Goliath, he reinterprets our understanding of this classic story. He challenges our common narrative of David, who is the weak, undertrained. inexperienced ‘Shepard boy defeating the strong, clearly better trained and experienced Goliath view of this classic story. A Gladwell point out that David was as well trained in his weapon of choice as was Goliath, and he was much more flexible and adaptable to different battle conditions. Goliath, on the other hand, expected the rules of the game to be the conventional, toe to toe, which is stronger and tougher, battle to the death match with the biggest and strongest in the Israeli army. David, by choosing to change the basic structure of the encounter, running not face to face, long distance sling vs. short distance sword and shield, accuracy and speed vs. strength and force, turned what looked like disadvantages into advantages.
Like David’s defeat of Goliath, many of the large, dominant, hierarchical structures of successful companies in the middle of the century have been defeated by nimble, networked, smaller organizations in the business market place, and with amazing speed. Perhaps the most famous was big blue IBM (in 1980’s) against the Steve Job’s garage. Why is this happening more often now? In times of stability and predictability, where the competitive landscape is only populated with a few big players, and when disruptive innovations are seen way in advance, hierarchy with its emphasis on dividing the company into departments, will still win the day. The problem for many organizations, however, is these market conditions rarely exist, and therefore connected companies based around quick adaptability is more the norm. The master image guiding these companies’ structure today is less like a machine, and much more like an organism. The language used for such a company is a complex adaptable organization, and the human body’s interdependent systems better describes what businesses should use as a guiding metaphor. Rather than heavy and rigid, with routine outcomes like most mechanistic structures, the skeletal system in the human body is light, strong, flexible, and supportive, helping to provide backbone to the networked fluidity of most functions inside the body. In posts to come, we will be exploring this new structure in much more depth, but here is a question for your input and reflection today: Are the structures of organizations around you set up for support. adaptability and learning, or are they more based around control and mechanistic processes?