Three Trades of Actual Corporate Success


Some people, usually before they start working, have an interesting view of business. They see corporations, companies, and businesses as ruthless, pitiless, and greed-driven monstrosities, machines feasting on the soil of the land. Up to a point, they might be spot on. Except the tiny detail, which every engineer should notice by now. Machines are logical. The results of their operation can only be wrong if, for whatever reason, their design is faulty. And real life businesses, while obviously ruthless, pitiless, and greed-driven, are nowhere near what classical theory of economy expects them to be – a production function. Which, in essence, is nothing more but perfectly logical chart.

Now, how come no single business is logical?

Let’s travel thirty-five years back in time. A dreadfully boring book was published back in 1982, titled “An Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change”. It is fantastic and ground-breaking, yet, as a purely scientific piece of work, hardly entertaining. Despite this, it clearly displayed huge gap between theory of economy and real life. Its authors have a very solid foundation upon which they built their claims. Something very easy to overlook, apparently. Something classical economy vaguely calls just one of kinds of capital. Something remarkably important.

They noticed, that companies are made of people.

Now, this is when the fun starts. On one hand, you have numbers, functions, and charts. Just pure data and processing, devoid of any emotion. Its mechanics are known for centuries and millenniums, with only some alterations along the way. On the other hand, your growing business is nothing less but a growing society. It starts with a founder, who with his first hire turns into chieftain. Several hires more, however cool you’d like to stay, an intermediary role is created. Maybe chamberlain, maybe prince, maybe project manager – the title varies on your setting. As the model continues to scale horizontally and vertically, its social cells inevitably start to separate and isolate.

In real life, it’s relatively easy to forget that supply of resources, like food, commodities, and utilities, used to be scarce. Just two hundred years ago, barely anyone in the world had running water. Electricity has only just been invented. And your toiled was either somewhere outside, or you just emptied its content right on the street. Funnily enough, we do have a taste of these simpler times, when at work. Our resources are funds, people, equipment, access to knowledge – basically, every single entity you really need, but must fill out several forms to get it. With no guarantee of success though. Because these resources are in limited supply. And you need them to succeed, to outshine the other department, to deliver better value to your clients.

That’s when tribal warfare erupts.

Even though you could well do without that geeky quality engineer lurking in the corner, you will not give them away to the competing project. Yes, that would be beneficial to the company as a whole, but… Even if, by chance, you’re living the delayed gratification and would be willing to sacrifice – you do know that not everyone around is the same. Some people might need quick wins, very fast.

Going back to initial paragraph – you would expect this cold-blooded machine to be uniform and rock solid in its expansion, greed, and in relentless pursuit of decent ROI. The reality, as brutally (though scientifically) presented in the aforementioned book, is quite different. If you need a model, think of Italian city-states, 19th century Germany, or the Soviet Union. Each of them was a country able to unite in times of danger and fight their enemies. However, in times of peace… A bit of treachery here. Some backstabbing there. Burning few villages just outside the border. Nothing new, business as usual.

So, still willing to succeed in the corporate world?

Master history, as it keeps repeating.

Master sociology, as that’s what peace time is all about.

Master warfare, as it is inevitable.

Opinions are my own and not the views of my employers, customers, or clients.

Failed Agile Transformations ebook

Learn how to spot, avoid, and FIX them!