What do you call the part of a plant that grows underground? Depending on both on the type of plant and the part you’re looking at, the answer varies. I used to call the entire underground part the roots, until I learned about rhizomes. A rhizome (from Ancient Greek: rhízōma “mass of roots”), is an underground plant stem that sends out roots from its nodes. The rhizome also retains the ability to allow new shoots to grow upwards, so they appear like new separate plants.
Some tree species (cottonwoods, aspens, poplars, huon pines) are rhizomatous, so that each new tree is actually part of the other trees. They seem like separate entities but they are part of the whole.
This provides a beautiful analogy for departments within an organisation, that are connected by a unifying vision, a North Star, while they expand on the strength of the whole. This is what I call a Rhizomatous organisation. This post is part one of two. In part two, we will look at a successful Rhizomatous organisation, but for now let’s look at one that was more concerned with internal rivalry than collaboration.
Are you more concerned with competition from within the organisation?
Are you more concerned with competition from within the industry?
According to the Boston Consulting Group, the average life of a business model was once fifteen years. By their estimation, that number has drastically reduced to five years. A study released by Innosight, the Corporate Longevity Forecast, predicts the average tenure of companies on the S&P 500 list will continue to grow shorter and shorter over the next decade. We are living in a time of flux and disruption. Lessons from the past show that we stand a better chance of working together than competing. I don’t even mean compete within industries, I mean within organisations. So often, departmental silos compete for praise and recognition, rather than progress in a changing business environment. Often the organisations is set up that way with a divide and conquer leadership style, an archaic one.
Take for example how Sony dramatically failed to align their assets to bring us an iPod before Apple combined disparate industries to win the market.
“Too Many Octopus Pots!”
(Octopus Pots – Wikipedia)
In Japan (and other regions), an ancient variant of fish trap is used to catch octopuses.
Fishermen leave octopus traps on the sea bed for days. In time, octopuses enter these pots out of curiosity or for shelter, no bait required. When the fishermen bring the pots back to the surface, the octopus do not try to escape, they stay put in their pot.
In 1999, Sony was in pole position to own the digital content market but ultimately failed despite a huge head start with the walkman and other digital music players. Bear in mind Sony had all the components for a media player, digital devices, a music label, a movie label and a powerful brand.
After a stock crash in 2000, once they felt bottom-line pain, Sony decided to take action. In 2005, they recruited British executive Sir Howard Stringer as their first non-Japanese CEO.
His challenge was mammoth.
In his opening staff address, 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 and not grain (which is housed in silos) so the term silo is not well known in Japan. Scrambling for a synonym, the translator thought fast and settled upon the term “Octopus Pots”.
Stringer soon discovered that all the Sony silos were competing with each other and internal rivalry was stronger than with competitors. As a result hundreds of Sony products were incompatible with each other.
At the Computer Dealers’ Exhibition (Comdex), which was the largest computer trade shows in the world at the time, Sony launched two digital music devices. This was not because the company had over innovated or held an internal hackathon and created two competing products. It was due to deep divisions within Sony. While they should have been working together, the silos had created the two competing devices.
Neither had shared knowledge with the other.
Neither worked together.
Neither saw themselves on the same team.
Sony suffered for multiple reasons. They feared music piracy and felt if they produced an MP3 player it would fast track piracy. As they wrestled with existing business models and status within their organisation, Apple benefitted by aligned various partners. In the end, competitors would rather offer content to an outside party like Apple than work together. Of course, the music industry is not alone. Publishers might have worked together rather than offering all their content to Google. The radio industry might have worked together rather than offer their content to aggregators. It is always easy to point out these mis steps in retrospect and incredibly difficult to preempt them. The Thought this post aims to provoke is what about you and what about your organisation, are you competing with your colleague down the hall or are you competing with the speed of change?
THANKS FOR READING
If you like these thoughts on #reinvention, #transformation and #innovation, you will enjoy my forthcoming book: “Undisruptable: A Mindset of Permanent Reinvention for Individuals, Organisations and Life.” now available for pre-order and now available as a highly visual, enjoyable and immersive masterclass for organisations presented with passion and fun, virtually or otherwise.