Bureaucracy tends to protect itself even if that causes its own failure

This is a short post – because I mostly wanted to pass along Steven Dennis’s excellent thoughts about innovation in big operations. He posted those thoughts this morning on his blog in an entry titled “The problem with saying ‘no’“. You can find him on Twitter at @StevenPDennis.

In this post he observes that while there are important times big operations (bureaucracies) need to say “no”, it is far easier to reject risk than to embrace the opportunity that’s possible through that risk.

He also observes that the reward system in corporations leans heavily toward risk avoidance – and I’ll add that this is true even when avoiding that risk leads to failure.

I’ve written previously about this tendency in my post considering Miles Davis and the value of improvisation in corporations titled “Practicing on the Bandstand“.

Learning to take risks in companies requires that we learn to accurately evaluate size of risk, the likelihood of failure, and, especially, develop a clear picture of short term and long term value if you succeed. We also need to train operations to avoid the “vulture” syndrome where those not involved in taking the risk descend after failure (or before success is clear) to pick the bones and destroy their organizational opponents. (I belive the vulture syndrome to be, perhaps, a corporation’s biggest impediment to risk because it is an insidious part of the culture that memos and meetings can’t prevent.)

All of these disciplines must come from a culture of smart risk taking that comes from the executive suite. Still, making all this happen is far trickier than it seems it should be. But working hard to sort them out is far more rewarding than merely living behind the safety of rejecting all risk.

Copyright 2015 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved


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