Jumping the Curve: How Do We Do That?

Organizations  of all types – – business, government, nonprofits, education – – are facing a major challenge:  moving from hierarchical to network mindsets.

To capture the scope of this transformation, we use the idea of S curves. Years ago, as we were developing Strategic Doing, one of our mentors, David Morgenthaler, suggested that we use S curves to underscore the nature of the fundamental transformation underway. David was one of Silicon Valley’s iconic venture capitalists. He formed his venture capital firm, Morgenthaler Ventures, and became one of the early investors in companies like Intel and Apple.

He took a great deal of interest in our work, and as we shared with him our  early ideas about the challenges facing organizations, he suggested that we develop a narrative around the transformation between S curves.

In the management and venture capital worlds, S curves are frequently used to describe the process of technology disruption. McKinsey consultant Richard Foster popularized the concept in his 1986 book, Innovation: The Attacker’s Advantage.

Following David’s suggestion, we developed the notion of the first S-curve emerging out of the Industrial Revolution. This is curve gave rise to hierarchical organizations that first appeared within railroad companies. Hierarchies quickly spread into industrial companies, as a new class of professional managers focused on organizing work to maximize efficiency.  Alfred Chandler’s book  The Visible Hand: The  Managerial Revolution in American Business captures the history of this development.

Starting in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a new S curve began to emerge.  This S-curve, focused on networks, organizes work differently. Driven by both globalization and advances in Information Technology, this S curve accelerated dramatically with the commercial deployment of the Internet starting in the mid-1990’s.

Now, organizations of all types are faced with a major transformation challenge. Moving from a hierarchical command-and-control organization to one that is more adaptive and agile.

The transformation is not easy. It involves moving to new mindsets: new ways of thinking, behaving and doing work together. Instead of thinking vertically, we need to think more horizontally. Instead of command-and-control direction, we need effective, self-directed teaming.

The transition from one curve to the next involves migrating the  assets within our legacy organizations into new innovating networks. In short, the transformation requires developing dozens of initiatives in which people learn how to launch and manage complex collaborations quickly.

We developed Strategic Doing to teach these skills. We’ve also learned some valuable lessons of transformation. For example, start slowly at first and then you can build the trust that fuels acceleration. If you’d like to learn more, consider coming to one of our 2.5 day training sessions. Questions? Contact us at info@strategicdoing.net.

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Ed Morrison