The Accidental Intersection of Industries = Where Organizational Change May Offer An Exponential ROI
In discussing some of the relevant theories that I often use in my Managing Organizational Change course delivered once or twice a year to MBA students in our Executive Program, my suggestion was to push out the change effort to the periphery and then, after achieving some success with new ways of working, pull it in closer to the core to spur change from the outer edges of the company in. Through the conversation, as is the want to do in the for-profit sector, he was pushing me to build out the economic reasons that would provide a solid rationale for fostering transformation in this way. What we discovered was that, just perhaps, there may be a way to place the change strategically such that it moves change in more than one industry.
That is, by unleashing the creative talents of your people, placing them at what I call the "Accidental Intersection of Industries," you may be able to create an economic rationale and change effort that yields an exponentially greater ROI than if you focus all your efforts on the internal mechanisms by which you get products out the door.
Proven methodologies become institutionalized, scripted, and rigid. In some cases union rules may force a regulatory way of interaction that clearly define how management works with the rank-and-file and how subordinates report to their superiors. The climate for organizational change in such places - not around changing product lines or products delivered so much - becomes hostile to any suggestion that the old ways of doing may be inherently flawed in the new, ever evolving industrial space in which they must keep up to remain competitive and viable.
Effectively, the routines in the operation become wrote, and people may even feel safe and enjoy the predictability that the daily routines offer. You know what you will do when you get to the office, turn on your monitors, check your voice mail and plug in for the day. But these routines and status quo activities may effectively cause a clogging of your organizational arteries, and in many ways, the success you have experienced and may still well be experiencing has effectively put the blinders on such that you cannot see that you are slowly loosing market share, and about to be leapfrogged by some other company that comes at you from your flank because they "jumped your stack."
You know you have a problem. However, the status quo and the quarter-to-quarter fiscal results suggest you've got the recipe right. And your people begin to believe or for a long time have wholeheartedly believed that the secret sauce you think you hold the patents to will keep you in the riches as long as GE has been around. What do you do? Do you tip the apple cart when it apparently seems like it doesn't need tipping? How do you create frame breaking change that allows your organization to catapult out of the day-to-day morass of the warm, embryonic comfort of the status quo - particularly as your sales team will constantly remind you, the numbers are good?
My friend's problem was two fold. Most importantly, the primary problem was the existing culture of the whole company. His secondary concern was that no one had utilized the existing and emerging proprietary technologies he suggested would accomplish his "jump-the-stack" goal. My suggestion to the friend who was sitting across the desk from me at the time while I was drawing on a enormous post-it note, was that, in order to "jump-the-stack" and switch from a place where the company made products that suited the OEM needs to one where they created products that OEM folks wanted to design toward (which in turn creates very different types of market interactions), he needed to experiment on the periphery of the organization, and by default because of the nature of his company that would naturally be at the periphery of the industry as well.
Then, in a quasi-eureka moment, it hit me. Not only was the experimentation and possible shift of organizational culture a threat to the existing culture of his operation, it was likely to be a threat to the culture and existing operation of a wholly different industry because the end goal was to be a product that may shift the way we do things in my industry - the dot EDU space.
The solution became readily apparent as I drew the venn diagram to represent the placement of the change/organization experiment. There was a small sliver between the industries where there was overlap. If you could place your change effort, I said to my friend, at the very center of the venn diagram where the two industries overlap, you just might be able to create a case where the ROI yields massive cultural shift not just in his own operation, but in a whole different, albeit unintended, industry. I called it right then and there - the "accidental intersection of industries."
Simply put, when possible, organizational change efforts should be sponsored by the upper echelon of an organization and intentionally placed at the accidental intersection of industries, where what they accomplish is not just change for the home company, but also could spur on change in a whole different industry. In that way, the ROI could yield exponential results because the company wins as the organization is now primed for serving what will be a changed symbiotic industry.
The product, the iPod and ensuing generations of it, essentially transformed the recording industry because the innovation wasn't just a new product for a very snazzy piece of technology, but was also at the accidental intersection of the technology and recording industries. In that way, Apple's own inventions of new ways of doing what had been tried before at other companies (any one remember another kind of MP3 player at this time), and effectively transformed an industry, thus positioning themselves as the premier provider in that changed landscape.
If you are able to locate places where there is this accidental intersection of industries, you too may be able to leap-frog the competition toward a model where you are the premier provider in that category, or even create new categories altogether.