Thursday, October 11, 2007

Carly Fiorina on Change, Google, and Al-Qaeda

Last night, I saw a lecture by Carly Fiorina as part of a speaker series my wife and I attend. I didn't know what to expect going in to the lecture. The primary theme of her lecture was "change" -- how difficult it is for people to make changes due to their fear of doing something different; what needs to happen in order for businesses and organizations to make changes effectively; etc.

Coming out of the lecture, my initial response was that Fiorina's speech was "okay" (it wasn't as inspirational as many lectures we have seen) but I was very impressed with her. She is extremely polished and has a good understanding of a broad range of issues.

Upon further reflection, some of the points Fiorina made is resonating with me a bit more. In particular, when asked why she feels Google has become so successful, she presented an analogy that she often gives to people she consults to in our federal government. She feels that Google is to Microsoft as Al-Qaeda is to the U.S. Government. To her, this is not an issue of "good vs. bad" or "winner vs. loser" but it is about organizations who do things the old way (Microsoft and the U.S. Government) versus those that are doing things a different way (Google and Al-Qaeda).

Fiorina feels that organizations like Microsoft and the U.S. Government manage their "businesses" based on their legacy; they use a top-down, "command and control" style of management; and they are made up of a bunch of functional silos. All of this makes them organizationally inflexible and, therefore, they are unable to react quickly to market dynamics or competitive threats.

Organizations like Google and Al-Qaeda on the other hand are managing their "businesses" based on being innovative, and they have flatter organizational structures that give people autonomy to do things and foster a collaborative style of management. All of this gives them flexible organizations that can react quickly to market dynamics or competitive threats.

Fiorina feels that organizations in the 21st century, largely in part due to the effect that technology and globalization is having on our society, cannot run their businesses "the old way" anymore and have to change. The leading organizations of this century, in her mind, are going to be those that have leaders who foster a culture of collaboration, not one of "command and control". Interesting food for thought.

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