Tag Archives: organizational decline

That’s All Folks: Why the Writing Is on the Wall at Microsoft

Read our latest piece on Forbes here. Our previous piece was on how the lack of diversity can cripple your company. Read it here.

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A control expert preparing for the eventual collapse.

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How firms fail to act on a disruption and fall as a result: the case of AT&T in 2005

A central tenet of innovation research is that firms often fail to act on a disruption that threatens their business, and falter as a result. A case in point is AT&T, the 120 year-old subsidiary of Bell Telephone Company, child of Alexander Graham Bell, an American icon.

In 2005, AT&T was sold to SBC Communications. It was in a way a family story, as SBC Communications started in the mid-eighties as the smallest of the seven “baby bells”, the companies created after the regulator ordered the AT&T break-up.  But what a story !

AT&T introduced many innovations, and not small ones:  first commercial radio (1922), first television transmission (1927), first mobile phone (1946 !), first transistor (1947), first telecom satellite (1962).  AT&T has long been a giant of the economic landscape:  one million employees at the beginning of the 80s, and not so long ago a market value of $180 billion (1999).

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The loss of creative capacity as a source of organizational decline

An interesting way to think about how organizations deal with disruptions in their environment, and what ultimately causes their demise, is to consider the thesis of Arnold J Toynbee on the decline of civilizations and apply it to the world of organizations.

Toynbee is the author of “A study in history“, the landmark book on the history of civilizations. The book comprises 6,000 pages, no less. Fortunately, a professor decided to write an abridged version, which allows normal people like you and me to grasp the virtuosity and knowledge of Toynbee in only… 1,200 pages in two volumes. What does Toynbee write? According to him, a civilization grows when its elite is creative enough to attract inside and outside constituents. The civilization breaks down when the elite loses this creative capacity and gives way to, or transforms itself into, a dominant minority. When this happens, the driver of the civilization becomes control, not attraction, and its unity ends.

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