Companies as Ecologies

Why do firms get stuck? It is an important question because getting stuck and living with ever more rapid change are largely inconsistent.

So let’s take the premise “living with ever more rapid change” as a given for a moment. Where do these changes come from? Interesting question. The conventional wisdom is that they are random discrete events that take place when people see how to better use new ideas. This may be the result of a new technology or a new value. But they are discrete events.

But what if they are not? What if changes were happening all the time? Interesting. At first it sounds like a nightmare! How can I invest when I don’t know what the market will look like tomorrow? But when you think about it, this is only a nightmare scenario if we are out of tune with change. If we have lost touch with the pace of change. Sort of like trying to sell suits of armor after the invention of the tank.

So, let’s have a bit more fun. Let’s assume for a second that market changes are not discrete events but are the product of a steady stream or flow of exchanges that take place between people. The goal in this universe would be sensitive to those exchanges. To facilitate them so that you could benefit from them. As it turns out this is sort of what nature does. We use the word “ecology” to describe a complex system where multiple exchanges produce this type of flow.

So what would a firm look like in this universe? It would not be “command and control” based. Why not? Because the command centers would not know what to control. And those control would be frozen in place waiting for commands that don’t keep up with what is needed. James Urquhart has some ore ideas about a new type of design approach that might work better.


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