In the wake numerous “too big to fail” crises (2008, GM, the entire banking system, etc.), the lifespan of companies has once again been called into question. For one, the venerable FT dusted off Arie de Geus’s seminal book The Living Company for a special report on corporate longevity in April 2015. Our friend Jay Cousins contributes to this discourse by asking: what if some businesses were “too big to live”? After all, the health of an ecosystem relies upon the cycling of resources through continuous, parallel processes of redistribution and reconsolidation, which necessarily involves death. A corresponding corporate strategy would focus on the legacy that a corporation leaves behind—the redistribution of its resources within an ecosystem that it has helped to shape—rather than the needless, resource-intensive maintenance of organization beyond its time.
DateMarch 19, 2015TitleTED@BCG: Jay Cousins – Too Big to LiveSegment00:08:28 – 00:10:52Jay Cousins:
Now where does this leave the dinosaurs? Some organizations are presently listed as too big to fail because in doing so they could potentially destroy the ecosystem. I would likewise argue that they’re too big to live because in continuing they actually suck up too many nutrients and resources from the surrounding ecosystem—sucking up all of the opportunity and preventing diverse growth from cropping up. Within any ecosystem, they key central factor is death. Bear with me! Death returns the nutrients to the soil—it’s essential. Death allows for renewal—it allows for rebirth and re-creation. So it’s very important that we explore how we create death by design. For years we’ve had planned obsolescence for products, but I would like to see use move towards planned obsolescence for businesses. Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter now create an opportunity for businesses to generate demand ahead of supply. This allows us to create things like mayfly businesses, which can actually develop products like everlasting light bulbs, which have been technically feasible, and then die. This would be a very challenging thing for entrenched business interests to compete with because how do you compete with an entity which has completely disrupted your market and then died? It’s no longer even around. For businesses that are looking to survive and look at how they can continue to survive, I would encourage you to look at your legacy. When the dot com bubble crashed, it left us with an internet transatlantic backbone from which we all now benefit from today. So look at how you can nurture the ecosystem first and foremost. Look at how you can put the best of what you have into your offspring, in order that they can survive, then open up, die, and let the ecosystem thrive.