LET GO AT THE TOP

And the better the company…

…the less room there is for devolution.

Everything about a modern organization is dedicated to pushing uphill. The CEO is trained, and paid well, to push the firm toward the peak. Quality circles get the entire workforce marching uphill toward optimal performance. Consultants monitor the tiniest detail, trying to eliminate anything that might keep the company from attaining the peak of perfection. Reengineering wonks zero in on computer data showing which parts of the organization are lagging behind. Even the receptionist is in search of excellence.

Where in the modern company is the permission, let alone the skill, to let go of something that is working, and trudge downhill toward chaos?

And have no doubt: It will be chaotic and dangerous down below. The definition of lower adaptivity is that it places you closer to extinction. But you have to descend and risk extinction in order to have the opportunity to rise again.

Economist Joseph Schumpeter calls the progressive act of destroying success “creative destruction.” It’s an apt term. Letting go of perfection requires a brute act of will. And it can be done badly. Management guru Tom Peters claims that corporate leaders are now being asked to do two tasks–building up and then nimbly tearing down–and that these two tasks require such diametrically opposed temperaments that the same person cannot do both. He impishly suggests that a company in the fast-moving terrain of the network economy ordain a Chief Destruction Officer.

 

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This is a blog version of a book of mine first published in 1998. I am re-issuing it (two posts per week) unaltered on its 10th anniversary. Comments welcomed. More details here.
-- KK