“Your failures and misfortunes don’t threaten other people. It’s your assets and your successes that are problems for people who derive their self-esteem from being superior.”– Carol Dweck, Mindset
Have you ever noticed how in almost every mafia (or gang-related) movie the organization is taken down from the inside? These movies involve an inevitable cycle of betrayal, envy and the pursuit of power. While such movies portray criminal organizations, they mirror a competitive ruthlessness that exists in legitimate organizations. The older the organisation, the deeper the struggle to protect power. Often such Machiavellian machinations are obvious, particularly in publicly funded or legacy organisations. In other commercial organisations, the battle for power is driven by the pursuit of prestige and more reward and recognition – you have to be careful how you reward people.
In all such cases, when your people are preoccupied with internal threats whoever wins, the organisation loses.
Changemakers often experience the full wrath of a protective status quo when an internal power broker perceives them as a threat (to their position). Even though they may espouse upstanding business practices, proclaiming, “We are very innovative!”, ultimately when threatened by internally driven proactive change, the status quo can act as unscrupulously as the mob.
Of course, a changemaker does not get gunned down in the street or wake up with a horse’s head in their bed (with reference to the scene from “The Godfather”). Such overt violence is much too obvious and the status quo knows all the HR guidelines. Instead, the status quo engages in psychological warfare. They exclude, ostracize and frustrate the changemakers. They put them out to corporate pastures where they have a choice to chase corporate cul de sacs, pursuing meaningless projects. In rare cases, the changemaker will opt to stay choosing the safety of a pensionable and secure job, they essentially retire on the job and the brain rot kicks in.
What do leaders do? As we share on this Thursday Thought, even when innovation is a survival imperative, rewiring internal competition can prove extremely difficult.
Sony: Stuck in Octopus Traps
In Japan (and other regions), fishermen leave octopus traps (image above) on the sea bed for days and in time, octopuses enter these pots out of curiosity or for shelter. When the pots emerge from the sea bed, the octopuses do not try to escape, they stay put in their pot!
In 1999, Sony was primed to own the digital music market. The company ultimately failed despite its head start with the walkman and myriad other digital music devices and content. Bear in mind the end-to-end product development opportunity that Sony had. Not only did they invent and manufacture devices, but they owned a music label, and movie studios and had a globally renowned brand.
When Sony’s stock faltered in 2000, leadership took action and in 2005, Sony recruited their first non-Japanese CEO, Sir Howard Stringer. His challenge was not so much managing the rapidly changing external business environment, but managing the internal power battles and octopus-pot behaviour.
Too Many Octopus Pots!
“People most strenuously seek to evaluate performance by comparing themselves to others, not by using absolute standards.” – Leon Festinger
In his opening speech to staff, Stringer said, “Sony is a company with too many silos!” The term “Silo” was unfamiliar to the Japanese audience. This is because Japan grows rice rather than grain (which is housed in silos). Thus, the word “silo” is not well known in Japan. Scrambling for a synonym for silo, the translator settled on “Octopus Pots”. It turned out to be a pretty accurate substitution silo, here’s why.
Stringer discovered that internal rivalry was stronger than rivalry with competitors. As a result, hundreds of Sony products were incompatible with each other! In order to show how ludicrous this internal competition was, Stringer orchestrated a side-by-side display of Sony gadgets. Rather than respond with a sense of shame, the silos beamed with pride. Incredibly, at the Computer Dealers’ Exhibition (Comdex), the largest computer trade show in the world at that time, Sony launched two digital music devices. This was not because the company had held an internal hackathon and created two competing beta-versions of a product. Neither silo had shared any knowledge with the other. Neither worked together. Neither considered themselves members of tone Sony. It is a familiar story, common in organisations of every size.
Imagine all the energy that organisations waste on internal rivalry. Imagine instead investing this energy in other pursuits? Competition, while important in moderation can hold an entire organisation back. It is wise to remember that in today’s hyper-competitive business environment, the competitor will likely not even look like you and will likely not even come from your industry. A great friend of the Innovation Show and multiple-time guest Rita McGrath says, you must think in arenas rather than industries, but many executives are more competitive with the person up the hall than the competitor outside the wall. Nokia, Ericson, BlackBerry, and Sony kept a watchful eye on each other’s products but dismissed a competing phone from a then struggling Apple.
In industry after industry, upstarts leveraging new platforms and cheap access to capital to compete with incumbents. Incumbents are often so embroiled in inner conflict, with internal one-upmanship, with competing with the person down the hall that we have no energy left to deal with or even recognise real threats or to pursue magnificent opportunities.
If this content resonates then so too will my book, Undisruptable: A Mindset of Permanent Reinvention for Individuals, Organisations and Life, out now on audiobook, kindle and hardback.
You may also enjoy my Workshops or Keynotes on change delivered in a fun and engaging manner, endorsement below.
“This course is a masterclass in deep learning, which immerses participants in the art of unlocking creativity and innovation. And their applications in today’s world. I cannot recommend this course enough for teams that need some propulsion and intellectual nourishment at home or work.” — Aiden Connolly, Head of Innovation & Special Projects, Toyota/Lexus