How Companies Get Increasingly Desperate As They Grow


Saturday, 10.29pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. – Mark Twain

I discovered PechaKucha yesterday – a presentation format where you have 20 slides that advance every twenty seconds and you have to talk along to the images.

I selected one randomly and listened as Kal Barteski described her career as a polar bear artist.

In case you’re not sure what a polar bear artist is – she’s an artist who draws polar bears.

Over 500 of them so far, I think.

Yes. Really.

Anyway, however you look at this, it’s creative.

And distinctive. And focused. But, above all, creative.

Then, I watched Sir Ken Robinson on TED ask whether schools were places where the creativity was drained from people.

The arts, he said, were at the bottom of any hierarchy of subjects.

You were steered to everything else first because those subjects got you jobs.

I had this experience – I liked reading and writing but studied maths and physics and chemistry.

One could argue that what you study at school really doesn’t matter.

What matters is experience and you need that experience to make good art.

But, we digress.

The point is that at the centre of it all – a vocation, a business – is an act of creation.

You’re doing something different, bringing in something new.

And from then on it’s all downhill and gloom and despair.

Which is captured in the Greiner Curve – five or maybe six stages that companies go through as they grow.

You’ll find examples of the curve everywhere so the picture above is an adaptation that tries to bring out the desperation under the quiet, academic tone of the model.

So, you start with a good idea. Maybe it’s just you or a few others.

You all work on the idea, long hours maybe, trying to get customers and build capability.

The team is small, talking is easy and you all get on.

Then you start getting some customers and suddenly there’s more to do.

You’re not sure who’s doing what and you ask Who’s leading this?

You give yourself roles or hire some staff and get on with the job.

But then it isn’t clear how to do things, training is patchy and customers aren’t happy. You’re asking Why aren’t things working?

The answer is that you need better systems and processes. Document everything, use forms and requests and plans.

Pretty soon, you’re drowning in paperwork and getting frustrated and asking Why does nothing ever get done?

So then it’s time to reorganise, maybe set up groups that do their own thing – lean teams that head off to conquer the world.

Except they don’t. Some things work, some things don’t.

So now it’s clear that you can’t fix it internally so you look around and ask Can anyone out there help us?

Sure… for a price.

But we can’t guarantee any results.

Is this too cynical?

I don’t think so – because it’s what happens a lot of the time.

Things generally degenerate – it’s the law of entropy.

Things, when left alone, will gradually decline into disorder.

It takes effort to stop that happening – effort and energy.

What’s clear to me from the Greiner Curve is that the only happy place is at the centre.

That centre where creative stuff happens.

After that, it’s all hassle and headaches.

When you’re working on something creative – that you’re passionate about and enjoy doing – the days go by quickly and you’re having fun.

You’ve got some fight in you.

Kal Barteski says polar bears have no natural predators – they’ve no reason to be scared of anything.

Some companies are so big that maybe that applies to them.

But for many the changes are they’re afraid a lot of the time.

If I were making that choice now about what to do in school I’d pick doing maths and writing and art. And random stuff.

Because the more skills and experience you have the more creative you can be.


Karthik Suresh

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