Leading institutions around the globe – museums, universities, and scientific institutes – share a similar focus on how they maintain their organizations over long spans of time. They create very stable management teams with long-term planning as their central core. Typically, a CEO will serve for at least 10 years, as opposed to five years for the typical for-profit business leader. Not only that, but most leaders are groomed years in advance, so they actually have almost two decades at or near the top of the food chain.
The majority of businesses have quite different structures. Most are pegged to quarterly earnings statements and so change occurs – often – in bursts. Long range plans change, new products or services are introduced as the market dictates. GE is a perfect example, as John Flannery is out after just a year as the CEO – and that was after the sudden departure of Jeff Immelt. They have shed businesses they’ve spent billions building over the past decade and a half. And now they’re bringing in an outsider, not someone groomed for years to assume a leadership position. Their disruption has occurred at their core.
But here’s an interesting facet to consider: while you might expect businesses to be the disrupters in society, it is in fact the 100 year old institutes that really shape the world. You see, institutes, while resting on a solid foundation, disrupt society at the perimeters of their existence. They begin by nurturing children at an early age. They develop programs that kids can share in and learn from, often in concert with schools and after-school programs.
They also bring in outside talent, often project-based, to infuse new ideas and new ways of seeing things. These people I would refer to as the disruptive experts in any given field. Obviously, both parties agree to a scope of work, then the disrupters start disrupting.
Then, they target society at large by putting on public exhibits, fund raisers and other events that shape and mold ideas in the public sphere. They disrupt from their perimeter.
Again, let’s look at the private sector. Their perimeter forces – marketing, sales, PR – are under tight leashes with highly compartmentalized agendas. Their perimeter is stoic and staid. Hardly disruptive. So, quite the opposite of institutions when you come to think about it.
What to do? If you’re in business, think long and hard about solidifying your foundation. Groom and grow from within. Nurture and bring in young talent and make it worthwhile for them to stay with you for years, for decades. Look at outsourcing cutting edge talent for specific project work that your team might not be adept at. Give them some leeway to disrupt the marketplace. And let the reins loose on your perimeter team. Incentivize independent thinking and reward the risk takers when they get it right. Keep your management team well stocked and macro-manage the outer core. Solid foundation, disruptive perimeter.