More than 20 years ago, Jerry I. Porras and James C. Collins, wrote the bestseller ‘Built to Last, successful habits of visionary companies’. It became a standard in the conventional thinking of the time, because it tried to uncover what was behind great (visionary) companies that seemed to have been, that is, built to last. One of the things they ‘found’ was that, in these companies, strategies change but the core values remain.
There was an underlying, almost unspoken assumption: that lasting was good.
Progressively, but not immediately after, some people started to question the ‘lasting’ beauty of the organization. In points of the following history of the development of the enterprise, things looked actually the opposite: companies not only did not last much, actually they could be very ephemeral, but people could make billions of it. Bubbles came, bubbles went, but ‘lasting’ became less and less of an overriding goal.
Indeed, some people build to sell, or build to create a temporary (technological, for example) vehicle, or build to solve a particular problem (for example a drug therapy), or build to accumulate expertise, or..
The question, 22 years later exactly, is not the beauty or not of ‘lasting’ but the importance of asking: build to what? And perhaps, next question, for how long.
For example, build to make money? OK. Casinos also do, so, why would company X be better than a casino. Built to make profits (a different thing)? OK, Amazon does not have any, nor, it seems, intends to. Build to enhance shareholder value? Then the competition between X and Y company is based exclusively on that, a number, a hand-out of money, no mater what they do.
My hypothesis is that younger generations want a clear(er) answer to the Big Why, which is another form of ‘the built to what question’.
If you have a chance do this exercise. Put together a group of people (your team, your direct reports, your project team) and hand out to them a piece of paper with the phrase ‘We are built to … Please complete the sentence’. They must do that individually and privately. I can assure you that the richness of the discussion that follows will surprise everybody, and that you will perhaps have some astonishing answers. Then challenge each other. Then bring lots of coffee. This may go for hours. But it may be the most important discussion you may have in the year.
My ‘built to what’ game, always, always, pays off.