Get Past Inertia (Part One)

Arie de Geus, an ex-Shell executive turned consultant, has researched why certain companies over one hundred years old have been so successful. The twenty-seven companies he studied were able to successfully get past inertia, sustain themselves, and grow over time. They managed to withstand economic changes while staying true to their mission, without resorting solely to the tactic of acquiring companies to stay afloat in their market. He found three characteristics common to these successful companies:

Once we start moving in a certain direction or doing something a certain way it is hard to stop or change. That is inertia. And while this is true for individuals, it is even stronger in a group dynamic. If you want to innovate, you need to change. And in order to effect change you need to overcome the natural tendency toward inertia.

Arie de Geus, an ex-Shell executive turned consultant, has researched why certain companies over one hundred years old have been so successful. The twenty-seven companies he studied were able to successfully get past inertia, sustain themselves, and grow over time. They managed to withstand economic changes while staying true to their mission, without resorting solely to the tactic of acquiring companies to stay afloat in their market. He found three characteristics common to these successful companies:

  1. They practice fiscal conservancy.
  2. They are open to new ideas from both inside and outside the organization.
  3. They have established a strong community of values that resonates with their employees, making them feel they can take risks and not be fired if they don’t succeed—the feeling of belonging to a community helps overcome the fear of failure and the anticipation of potential negative consequences at a personal level.

Although point one relates to classic best practices in business, points two and three tell us why play—something not in the typical business best-practices toolbox—is key in a work culture in ensure the longevity of an organization. Openness to new ideas and a fundamental level of trust are inherent in a playful atmosphere, and play is an essential ingredient in generating innovative ideas.

Excerpted from The Intuitive Compass, Jossey-Bass, 2011.

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