Transforming OurSpace Using Thinker's Thoughts
December 2007/January 2008 - Shel Rovin



Nature limits unfettered growth, managers encourage it.

Nature controls growth through a variety of mechanisms such as predator-prey relationships, lightning caused forest fires, extinction of species, and environmental change, to name but a few. Organisms are limited in size genetically, and also, for some, because of their environment. Nature is more concerned with development (getting better through natural selection) than growth (getting bigger). In organizations the concern for growth predominates. Bigger is deemed to be better, regardless of the lack of supporting evidence for this sentiment. The data from recent mega- mergers show that with few exceptions industries had a decline in market share as they grew bigger. Reasons given were that the bigger organizations get - the slower they are able to keep up with technologic advances and the more vulnerable they are to competition from narrowly focussed, low cost niche organizations.

There is another, perhaps more compelling, reason based on the biologic law that as an animal grows larger the more internal resources are required for its internal functions. But the growth is exponential, not arithmetic. (That’s why there are very few extremely large animals) As organizations grow larger the more resources they require for their internal tasks such as communication systems, data gathering, personal interactions and leadership. And like the biologic world this requirement is exponential, not arithmetic.

The first law of thermodynamics, the conservation of energy, tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed-that the intake and expenditure of energy have to balance. This means you have to “give to get.” Energy expended in one endeavor means less or no expenditure of energy for another endeavor. Organizations and the people who work in them have a finite amount of energy, not an infinite amount. But that doesn’t stop folks from constantly adding to their workloads. One of the more hilarious management slogans is that you have to “do more with less.” No one can effectively do more with less, you can only do less with less.

As any gardener will tell you, no garden grows without pruning. Regrettably, pulling the plug on something is far more difficult, sometimes painful, than starting something. It is much easier to add a new service or product than to give up an ongoing effort, particularly one with a long history or is cherished or whose existence is politically driven. But organizations cannot thrive or possibly even survive without pruning. The question for people in organizations is: what are we not going to do so we can do what we want to do, i.e., what are we going to give up?

A suggestion for improving organizational effectiveness: Add nothing to workloads, product lines, services, without removing a comparable amount of work, products and service.

What do you think?