Visualizing empires decline

I am observing a surge in the management and organizations literature on the life and survival of corporations. I’m keeping a watchful eye on it and will report when relevant. In the meantime, here’s a visual refresher on the life and survival of empires.

The blind side of networks

Twitter will suggest that you listen to people who listen to each other. Amazon will suggest that you read something very much like what you just read. Even your search engine will try to make sure that you get results that are similar to the ones you clicked on last time. If you go with the flow, you’ll end up hearing the same narrow view recycled repeatedly – yet you’ll think you did your due diligence.

Don’t fool yourself.

Gather information from those who do not communicate with one another. In fact, you want to gather information from entire networks that do not communicate with one another. Truly rich and diverse information comes only when you hear, separately and independently, from “worlds” that do not overlap: from different parts of the earth, different economic sectors, different social demographics, different religions, languages, ideologies and cultures.

via Think You’re Well Connected? Stop Fooling Yourself.

20 years after Disruptive Innovation

The theory of disruptive innovation was introduced in the Harvard Business Review in 1995 and it has since become part of common business parlance. Twenty years after the publication of the original article, Clayton Chistensen, Michael Raynor, and Rory McDonald present a state of the art in a recent HBR article.

The authors fear that

disruption theory is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success. Despite broad dissemination, the theory’s core concepts have been widely misunderstood and its basic tenets frequently misapplied. Furthermore, essential refinements in the theory over the past 20 years appear to have been overshadowed by the popularity of the initial formulation. As a result, the theory is sometimes criticized for shortcomings that have already been addressed.

And they are not pleased either with the way the expression itself is being used.

Too frequently, they use the term loosely to invoke the concept of innovation in support of whatever it is they wish to do. Many researchers, writers, and consultants use “disruptive innovation” to describe any situation in which an industry is shaken up and previously successful incumbents stumble. But that’s much too broad a usage.

Nor how

executives with a good understanding of disruption theory tend to forget some of its subtler aspects when making strategic decisions.

They identify four points that get overlooked or misunderstood:

  1. Disruption is a process.
  2. Disrupters often build business models that are very different from those of incumbents.
  3. Some disruptive innovations succeed; some don’t.
  4. The mantra “Disrupt or be disrupted” can misguide us.


disruptive innovation

The latter part of the article reviews ways in which the authors’ thinking about disruptive innovation has evolved and it ends on a cautionary note:

Disruption theory does not, and never will, explain everything about innovation specifically or business success generally. Far too many other forces are in play, each of which will reward further study. Integrating them all into a comprehensive theory of business success is an ambitious goal, one we are unlikely to attain anytime soon.

See also A new version of Porter’s five-forces model.



Social networking – a shared anxiety

What I want is to be creative. I want the tools to serve me, not the other way around.

I’m getting absolutely nothing significant done, but I’m supposedly “busy” all the time. And it’s all driven by a shared anxiety: if we don’t keep up, we’ll be left behind; if we don’t flock over here with the Crowd, we’ll lose our audience and no one will talk to us or listen to us anymore.

We’re not so sure they’re listening now…maybe we’d better issue another Tweet or Post or Dent and make sure they’re there.


Oliver Sachs reflects on (his) life upon learning he has terminal cancer

This a few months old but it never gets old. Focus, perspective and having no time for the inessential.

It’s never too late to get to clarity. And the earlier, the better.

I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.

This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people — even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands.

I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure. (via NYTimes.)

Résoudre en soi et pour soi les plus grandes questions

Je lis chez Desbiens (Ainsi donc):

L’abondance des notes, en effet, et la dimension de la bibliographie ne m’impressionnent plus. (…) En outre, je suis gouverné depuis longtemps par l’idée qu’il faut résoudre en soi et pour soi les plus grandes questions.

Cette pensée rejoint celle d’Ortega y Gasset: lire moins et penser davantage (leer menos, pensar más).

Au lecteur qui se demande comment reconnaître si cette résolution est faite et est sienne, je propose ceci: demande-toi si tu peux donner raison de tes plus profondes convictions.

The dissident leader

I found this quote in my notes. And it coincides with my current reading of Tomas Sedlacek‘s Economics of Good and Evil. Sedlacek was an economic advisor to Vaclav Havel. Although I have not finished reading the book, I can already recommend it. More on the book and its thesis in a future post.

[Vaclav] Havel embodied the guidelines of creative defense with wit, wisdom, and the shortcomings of a man. He inspired people with a bold algorithm, a mantra really: living in truth. In an era of cryptic truths, so too was the very notion of “living in truth”. After 1989, he became the first anti-political president of the Czech Republic and the planet; he remains so to this day the bearer of a political legacy not so much shrouded in failure as indifference to power. Yet, he was never powerless, not for a moment.

Who in New York, Baku, or its affiliate, well-to-do cities of East and West dares brave the consequence for something greater than a slogan, or greater than themselves? To be a dissident has reached the point of cliché if only because human rights is all too often the case of a competing elites, alienated from “the people”; to be imprisoned does not necessarily mean you speak for human rights, but it does mean, if only for a moment, that you spoke for yourself.

Yet in many societies, this remains a grave crime. To do so creatively, brilliantly, and in a way in which the humor never fades from the voice, the laughter never subsides, and the constant cackle is one that echoes in the executioner’s chamber as opposed to in society, the inmate’s cell and among those who have struggled to know the difference between the two — this is the gift Havel gave.

via The New Inquiry.