For the last few years I have been fascinated with Clayton Christensen's theory of disruptive innovation and its application to business, politics, education, and insurgency models. What I find most interesting is that his theory, featured in both The Innovator's Dilemma and The Innovator's Solution provides a prescription for a small entrant with less resources to compete with and beat a large incumbent.
In my Gamble model post I argued that the military, like most large organizations is incredibly inert to change. I made the case that most organizations are unable to change because of an entrenched culture. Individuals that try to enter the organization with different thoughts and views usually get frustrated, leave, or quit because reward structures are rarely set up for innovation. The individuals that do move up share the values and beliefs of the current leadership and are promoted. This self perpetuating cycle doesn't allow for the needed influx of innovation to keep up with environmental change and the organization usually dies.
Don Sull has come up with another concept to explain why most large organizations go bad. He calls the concept "active inertia". In it's most simple form, active inertia is described as a company that is facing a disruptive shift in the market and instead of adapting to the change, the organization simply accelerates the activities that succeeded in the past. What is interesting is that Don argues that the things that made the organization successful in the past, actually create the pitfalls after the market disruption. Take an organization built like GM. GM was so focused on competing with Ford and Chrysler that they failed to see the signs that Toyota was causing a disruptive shift in the market. The way they framed the their "competition" blinded from the market shift and their real competitor.
One of the most basic problems I see in business today is the misalignment of the organizational structure. The process of moving an organization toward a goal in a timely manner seems simple enough, yet I see so many business go lopsided and fall short of their goal.