5 Reasons Projects Fail: #2 Organizational Rigidity
This is part 4 of 5 of a series. To see the last post on “Unrealized benefits”, click here.
Two million years ago, the climate and landscape of Africa was in flux. Over the course of 200,000 years, areas alternated between woodland and grassland half a dozen times. With the varying climates, erratic food sources and inconsistent availability of water, there was no one static quality that was advantageous. It didn’t matter whether you ate grass or fruit (for example). The fruit eaters would starve during the grassland periods and grass eaters would starve during the woodland periods.
Our human ancestors’ unique capacity for thought meant we could adapt to each intervening period. With our adaptive gut and ability to use tools and build shelter, we were able fit with whatever environment happened to exist at the time. This is why our species prospered while others languished.
In competitive business environments, luck alone does not determine which organizations survive and which become extinct. There is a process of Survival of the Fittest that plays out, where those who are most attuned to the changing economic climate, business culture and consumer trends live on to fight another day.
While this perspective highlights the importance of “fitness” to a given environment, the crucial feature is adaptability itself. As an example, let’s say that we lived in a business culture where consumers only sought out the biggest and most recognizable names in a given industry. The organizations hauling in the largest profits and making the most notable expansions would dominate the market. Meanwhile, organizations earning slim margins on low-risk projects would be redundant in the marketplace and would die off.
Under these hypothetical circumstances, many people might laud companies that have an aggressive portfolio approach. While it is obviously true that organizations inherently built to be more aggressive are fittest for survival in this environment, this isn’t necessarily the organization we should emulate. They may survive under these hypothetical circumstances, but if times were to shift to a climate of intolerance to failure, then that very same organization would be taking foolish risks and would be in grave danger of becoming extinct.
An organization with true lasting power adjusts their portfolio approach as a conscious response to the environment. For example, an organization that recognizes the aggressive environment develops a strategy for how they can maximize return on their portfolio. This results in a high risk/high return approach. With a set process for adapting to any environment, they are can survive even as the economy, technology and culture of their time changes all around them.
As the human example illustrates, adaptability becomes especially critical during turbulent times. The great recession of 2008 is a recent example of an economic “extinction event.”
Now, we operate in a New Normal characterized by an intolerance to failure. Any organization that can’t adapt will die off.
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