Centralized, predictable, standardized and … vulnerable?


We like things predictable and uniform in business. We can manage things better that way. This assumes we have perfect knowledge of the future and can fend off the threats of competition, government regulation, and rogue events from technology. Yet bigger enterprises may tend towards a delusion: the assumption their formidable size and disciple around uniformity will protect them from risk.

But consider this: last month a single man from Nigeria boarded a plane with explosives hidden in his clothes. He managed to slip past TWO airport security checks. Were it not for his lack of preparedness and the heroic actions of the plane’s passengers, he might have killed hundreds of people. But he did cause disarray in the governments of many countries. And though travelers are not cowering, they are now inconvenienced by inane travel restrictions.


So, the bad guy won after all. And worse, the governments of the world did the same-old same-old: they reviewed their rules and decided to unify  and strengthen them.


This is not how Nature would respond to a threat. In his intriguing article, Nature’s Lessons For Adapting To The Terrorist Threat, Dr. Rafe Sagarin , a research scientist at the University of Arizona, tells us animals survive threats through decentralization. Octopuses’ skin cells change color to adapt to surroundings without a single command from the animals’ nervous system. He says “limited central control and lots of autonomy to individual parts that sense and respond to threats” help the animal quickly evade predators… and become a better predator.


Businesses face tradeoffs in an uncertain future. As the world’s economy improves, so do chances for corporate conquest. To seize them, should you find a new balance between centralization and autonomy? Predictability and risk? Standardization and creativity?



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