I’m not usually a germophobe, but the last few months I’ve been walking around opening doors with my elbows and washing my hands constantly. I’ve been freaked out by the constant updates on Facebook about what my friends/friends’ kids have come down with now. So far, my immune system has held up pretty well, but I always worry that H1N1 is only a doorknob away.
These are trying times for corporate immune systems too. The economic meltdown has exposed corporations to all sorts of risks they don’t deal with in the regular course of business. Many corporate immune systems have failed, putting millions of people out of work. It begs the question: how resilient is your company? And how can you make your corporate immune system stronger?
I got to thinking about this corporate immune system concept after reading the new book The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us And What We Can Do About It by Joshua Cooper Ramo. In this fantastic book, Ramo (former foreign editor of Time Magazine, now a foreign policy/strategy consultant at Kissinger Associates) offers his thoughts on what we as a society need to do to adapt to a rapidly changing world.
Ramo talks a lot about the idea of creating a stronger global immune system. Here’s what he means:
“What we need now, both for our world and in each of our lives, is a way of living that resembles nothing so much as a global immune system: always ready, capable of dealing with the unexpected, as dynamic as the world itself. An immune system can’t prevent the existence of a disease, but without one even the slightest of germs have deadly implications.”
Ramo presents this in idea in the context of how we protect ourselves from a scary world– terrorists, rogue nations, nuclear proliferation, and all that, but the concept applies well to the corporate world as well– tough competitors, fickle customers, shrinking budgets– we corporate folks have our own demons.
So how do we shore up the ol’ immune system? Ramo refers to the philosophy of building resilience or “deep security” into the organization. Continue reading
Last night, Red Hat President and CEO Jim Whitehurst gave a talk to a group made up of mostly students and faculty at the NC State School of Engineering. Nice writeup of it in the student newspaper here. His ideas were very timely for me; just the other day, I wrote a post with some tips for companies with 20th century cultures trying to make the move into the 21st century.
Jim Whitehurst is in a rather unique position because he has managed both an icon of the 20th century corporation (Delta Airlines) and what we’d like to think is a good example of the 21st century corporation here at Red Hat.
Because of his experiences, Jim is able to clearly see and articulate the differences between the old model of corporate culture, based on classic Sloan-esque management principles, and the emerging model, based in many ways on the power of participation broadly (and in our case, the open source way specifically).
One very simple point Jim made that really struck me: Companies with 20th century business models need to realize that they are already hiring 21st century employees.
People coming out of school today have grown up in an age where the ability to participate and share broadly is all they’ve known. These folks have grown up with email accounts, the Internet, Facebook, and all of the other trappings of a connected world.
So when they graduate from school and take jobs working in old-style corporate cultures, where progressive principles like transparency, collaboration, and meritocracy lose out to the old world of control, power, and hierarchy, what happens?
On Tuesday I’m heading up to New York to share an open source perspective with GE marketing executives at the legendary GE leadership center in Crotonville. I wrote a post a few months ago praising GE Chairman Jeffrey Immelt’s compelling new vision for corporate America, and I have an enormous amount of respect for GE as an innovation engine. I’m excited about the opportunity to exchange ideas with the smart folks there.
In 2009, Forbes ranked GE as the world’s largest company, so I’ve figured before I went up to Crotonville it’d be a good idea to do some homework and see what elements of what we call the open source way are already in practice within one of the most successful companies in history. I’ve found some interesting stuff in my research.
One piece in particular grabbed me. Sitting on the beach today over the holiday weekend, I finished the 2001 biography of Jack Welch (the legendary predecessor to Immelt as Chairman of GE) entitled Jack: Straight from the Gut. I thought I’d share a Jack Welch prediction (written almost ten years ago) that fits right in with our open source view of what the 21st century organization looks like.