Lesson 17 of 22
In Progress

Death of the Linear Organization

UPG Team March 17, 2023

The Linear Organization, which have been the basis of organizational structures for centuries, hinder companies from adapting to the demands of the exponential world. While ownership and the accumulation of value through people and resources were once key components of success, automation, mass production, and virtualization have challenged this way of thinking.

Despite this, many companies still rely on linear product development methods, such as the New Product Development process, which further reinforces resistance to disruption and risk-taking, leading to inertia and lack of adaptability. As a result, these linear organizations tend to be sequential, hierarchical, risk-averse, and focused on short-term financial outcomes, which are ill-suited for adapting to the exponential world. In order to thrive in this new environment, organizations need to embrace non-linear thinking and operations that allow for more flexibility and adaptability. This may involve a shift away from traditional ownership structures and towards more collaborative and decentralized models, as well as a greater willingness to experiment and take risks in pursuit of long-term success. By embracing change and embracing a more agile mindset, organizations can position themselves for success in the rapidly changing business landscape of the 21st century.

The issues that arise from organizing a company in a matrix structure. The vertical and horizontal divisions of the matrix often lead to silos of information and a lack of cross-functional teamwork. This structure is good for command and control but terrible for accountability, speed, and risk tolerance. The power balance tends to favour the horizontal functions like HR and legal, leading to a default “no” response. Additionally, the bureaucratic process often stifles innovation and drives away ambitious employees.

The challenges of achieving economies of scale and increased profitability while maintaining flexibility. The pressure to cut costs and increase revenue has led to offshoring, international expansion, and mega-mergers, but the flip side of increased size is decreased flexibility. Large organizations find it difficult to implement and maintain disruptive changes like those seen during the pandemic, and their linear structures clash with the newfound freedom and flexibility of their employees.

The problem is the corporate immune systems and their impact on organizational change and innovation. The mother company initiates an auto-immune response to any potentially disruptive shift, which can take the form of passive-aggressive blocking or direct career-ending attacks. This immune response renders big organizations vulnerable to disruption. Abandoning linear thinking and embracing the Exponential World is key. Traditional linear structures simply cannot compete in today’s landscape, and companies must adapt to survive.

Here’s where we look at the speed of Exponential Organizations (ExOs) and how it differentiates them from traditional linear corporations. ExOs are characterized by their blindingly fast pace, which is getting faster every year. The emergence of young unicorn companies, valued at over $1 billion, in recent years exemplifies this rapid growth. These companies achieve historically unprecedented rates of productivity per employee by contracting out or crowd-sourcing slow-moving processes. The text notes that the most successful companies are born as ExOs and run by a charismatic founder who can dictate speed and direction. However, driving innovation and charting a compelling course requires many things, including respect by employees, technical credibility, and ultimately, the backing of the board and owners of the company.

In today’s rapidly changing business world, companies that fail to adapt to exponential technologies and changing market conditions risk becoming obsolete. The story of Nokia’s failed acquisition of Navteq and the subsequent rise of Waze illustrates the importance of embracing non-linear thinking and digitization to remain competitive.

Nokia’s decision to acquire Navteq was seen as a smart move at the time, as it gave them ownership over physical traffic sensors embedded in roads across Europe. However, the rise of Waze, which used crowdsourced data from users’ mobile phones to gather traffic information, ultimately proved more successful. Waze was able to scale quickly and cheaply by digitizing and dematerializing Navteq’s assets, and its success highlights the power of exponential organizations and non-linear thinking.

The business world is currently undergoing a period of rapid change, driven by exponential technologies and shifting market conditions. Companies that fail to adapt to these changes risk becoming extinct, like the dinosaurs that were unable to adapt to an asteroid impact 65 million years ago. To survive and thrive in this new world, companies must embrace non-linear thinking, digitize their assets, and scale their organizations to take advantage of new opportunities.

To remain competitive in a rapidly changing business world impacted by exponential technologies, companies must embrace non-linear thinking, digitization, and scaling while being open to new opportunities for growth and success, or risk becoming obsolete.