The Death of Large: Are Legacy Enterprises Doomed?

One of our most surprising – and certainly one of the most compelling – discoveries while writing A World Gone Social revolves around the very nature of what it means to operate a company in this challenging new business environment.

This eye-opening path led us to penning what we call The Law of Change:

“Change happens as the result of insurmountable market pressure.”

That pressure is on us today. To some, it is just a feeling; we know something different is upon us, but don’t quite know what it is yet. To others, perhaps those less willing to change, the pressure is suffocating, which kicks in our instinct to fight back.

The latter group – those clearly resistant to change – won’t willingly leave their tried and true methods from the Industrial Age behind. It is what they grew up with, what they were taught us in business school. It is what their mentors advised and their first leadership roles reinforced. And without pressure from a source outside their organization that becomes too difficult to overcome – that insurmountable market pressure – they will not change.

Social is bringing that pressure to bear on us all right now. And our largest corporations, those least adaptable and most heavily saddled with bureaucracy, with their that’s-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it cultures, are being hardest hit.

Over the long haul, the legacy enterprises that do not embrace social are in trouble. They’re marching blithely off a cliff, completely unaware of what is going on around them. Soon, they will no longer be able to compete with other, similar organizations that continue leverage deep pockets and prestige and at the same time, choose to unleash the power available to them in the Social Age. Enabled by the Social Age, those companies will have the best of both worlds: brand power and an innovative business model that works through small, focused teams. And the industrial age dinosaurs – the top-heavy bureaucracy stuck in the 1950s – will fail to compete.

Want evidence?

  • Think Montgomery Ward, JCPenney, and Sears versus Amazon and its 17 million likes on Facebook.
  • Consider the fine community work that Ford, and to a certain extent new kid Tesla, are doing compared to competitors General Motors and Chrysler.
  • Ponder all the old-school beverage companies slowly going away, while Red Bull rocks social media with 36 million likes on Facebook and 1.5 million followers on Twitter.
  • Look at the work The New Yorker and Rolling Stone are doing on Twitter, and compare it to that of just about any dying magazine brand (and there are plenty to choose from).
  • Spend a few moments looking at the engaging social media accounts of Virgin America and Jet Blue, and compare them to the broadcasting-heavy, defensive stance of United or Delta.
  • Compare the long-term value of coffee brands like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts to Folgers.
  • Think about how Huffington Post’s 200,000 tweets have driven the younger demographic to a site operated by AOL, perhaps the Internet’s first original legacy corporation.

If we’re going to make a difference and save a few of these companies from self-imposed extinction—and in the process make the world of work a better experience for employees of all levels—now is the time.

That list of enterprises getting social right is absolutely a list of exceptions. For the other legacy firms, the hourglass is running out of sand.

Meanwhile, the little, nimble guys—the “nano” business units—are popping up everywhere, and thriving! They operate by the Hollywood Model, where a group of experts come together quickly to complete a project and then disband just as fast, moving on to the next projects.

“Hollywood,” you might say. “Well, there’s nothing normal about Hollywood! Maybe these are all flukes. Maybe an entire economy could never function this way.”

Maybe.

But do you want to be the leader who hangs on to the assembly line and mass production mentality long after that model was proven ineffective? Do you want to be one of those who need to believe so strongly in the Industrial Age model—and perhaps too strongly in the “too big to fail” mindset—and make the choice not to adapt? Do want to be one of the hold-outs that don’t embrace the Social Age until an irresistible market pressure, in a heartbeat, changes everything?

In business and in economics, nothing is unchanging. And Social today is every bit as powerful and unstoppable a disruptive force today as the assembly line was 100 years ago. And in the Social Age, the advantages that come from being nimble and nano isn’t just preferred; it’s imperative.

Social Media is an asteroid smacking into the business world, just as apparently happened to the world of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. At the time, the dinosaurs were the top of the food chain; the world was theirs; they were unbeatable.

Until they suffered the first-ever “Death of Large.” And then they weren’t.

Is your legacy enterprise ready for the Social Age? Is it ready to adapt, to learn to act small and nimble, no matter its actual size?

Or will it—in too-big-to-fail fashion—wait until the death of large results in extinction?

Mark S Babbitt Mark Babbitt is the CEO and Founder of YouTern, a talent community that enables college students, recent graduates and young careerists to become highly employable by connecting them to high-impact internships, mentors and contemporary career advice. Mark has been featured as a keynote speaker and workshop director by the Tiger Woods Foundation, Smithsonian Institute and National Association of Colleges and Employers. He is an in-demand speaker at colleges and fraternities, including UCLA, the California State University system, New York University, Delta Sigma Pi and Alpha Kappa Psi.

 

Ted Coiné

Ted Coiné is the Chairman and Founder of SwitchandShift.com, which works with leadership to focus on the human side of business, and he is host of The Human Side TV, where he interviews the most fascinating minds in business each week. One of the most influential business experts on the Web, Ted has been top-ranked by Forbes, Inc., SAP Business Innovation, and Huffington Post as a top mind in the fields of business leadership, customer experience, and social media. Ted is a three-time CEO and a popular keynote speaker with over 350,000 followers on Twitter – and growing rapidly.

Together they released their book A World Gone Social on September 22, 2014.

 

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