Awhile back I decided to rank the expeditions that The Exploration Group had been commissioned to guide since our beginning in 2008. I ranked them in three categories: most successful, average success and those that for whatever reason had not reached their full potential.
In the category of most successful I evaluated which ones had the highest success in my estimation. I considered which one had the most benefit to the general public, which one I enjoyed the most and which one was exceeding the expectations of the client.
There was one expedition that rose above all the rest. The organization’s staff and board of directors loved what was happening. The organization itself had developed a new department because of what they had set out to do. Sales and public opinion skyrocketed beyond expectations.
Two months after my fun ranking exercise, the leadership of this organization eliminated everything the commission had accomplished. In a sense they made all the explorers walk the plank.
Initially there was disbelief, then shock moved to bewilderment. The sheer disappointment was overwhelming.
The leadership of the organization had set out with an objective to do something significant. It turns out that perhaps they were looking to maintain the status quo. They did not want change if change meant that they needed to grow beyond the lifetime of the current stakeholders.
In hindsight it was not surprising. They had an established way of doing business and it had been successful up until this point. They were generating revenue, generating the attention they wanted and it was all under tight control. In a sense they wanted a navy with one ship and one captain with no room for aspiring lieutenants to grow. It’s not the choice I would've made. But as the commissioners of the expedition it was a choice that was well within their realm to decide.
In a free market, ideas and products are allowed to flourish and grow and find their place. In a real market economy when a new idea is conceived— but it doesn’t fit in the current organization— it is often spun off to become its own entity and find its home. A wholly owned subsidiary or a partner organization is often birthed.
When organizations are only looking in the rearview mirror and not toward the future they kill the ideas that are a perceived as a threat to their legacy. In the process they can also eliminate their future.
The Exploration Group has put forward many ideas over the years. Many were really good and would have benefited the organizations that commissioned us. But it's up to the commissioner to say, “Yes that's the direction we want to go.” Or “No it's not the direction we want to go.”
The organization didn’t fear failure. It feared change. Failure was acceptable because it did not change the status quo. By extension the biggest fear was success because there was no room for change when success challenged a comfortable status quo.