I was reading Jared Diamond's "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" when I came to this: "Perhaps a crux of success or failure as a society is to know which core values to hold on to, and which ones to discard and replace with new values, when times change."
Now Diamond's book deals with ecological disaster; but I was thinking about business. In fact, when I started Diamond's book, my mind was also on Jim Collins--on both "Good to Great," and "How the Mighty Fall."
And with good reason.
Ecological collapse--or the ability to avoid it--and the fall or rise of companies and whole industries have much in common.
The place where it comes most into focus is right at the heart of the matter: what Collins calls the need to "face the brutal facts of life." The most brutal fact of life of all, for a company or a culture, is that its core beliefs no longer fit the circumstances.
Think about the auto industry. Think about the newspaper industry. Or airlines. Take your pick.
Their problem in every case wasn't that they didn't see it coming. Clay Shirky argues convincingly that the newspaper industry saw the web coming for more than a decade. They just failed to look the brutal facts of life in the eye; they refused to think the unthinkable. They refused to question their own most deeply held beliefs about the way the world worked--or the way they wanted the world to work.
The great fear in America today is that we're guilty of this right now, right here, when it comes to a host of systemic problems, from a lack of a sustainable energy policy to an untenable national educational performance to a malfunctioning health care system. To a political system that is all about the game, with little regard to the actual outcomes.
If we can't, as a culture, look the brutal facts of life in the eye, if we're unwilling to discard and replace values that no longer work, our collapse will be more than ecological, and our companies' collapses will be incidental.
Then we'll all be in the rough.
All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb