Harvard Business Review Press
July 1, 1999
Unpredictable, discontinuous change is an unavoidable consequence of doing business in the Information Age. Because this intense turbulence demands fast – even instantaneous – response, many large companies are fragmenting themselves into smaller, quick-response units. But in doing so, they relinquish important advantages of scale and scope. Is it possible to have it both ways? Can large, complex firms adapt successfully and systematically to unexpected change?
Yes, says Stephan Haeckel, but only if leaders learn how to manage their organizations as adaptive systems. In Adaptive Enterprise, Haeckel updates the concept of the corporation for the Information Age with a radical and comprehensive rethinking of organizational strategy, structure, and leadership. He outlines a new sense-and-respond business model that is helping companies systematically cope with the unexpected.
Haeckel argues that when unpredictability is a given, the only strategy that makes sense is a strategy to become adaptive – to sense early and respond quickly to abrupt changes in individual customer needs. As a result, a firm’s operations must be driven by current customer requests – implicit as well as articulated – rather than by plans to make and sell what customers are forecasted to want in the future.
Here, for the first time, is a clear and comprehensive strategy for transforming firms into adaptive systems. Adaptive Enterprise is both a new way of thinking about business and a handbook for leadership of postindustrial organizations. It maps out, with examples and illustrations, a step-by-step plan that companies can use to transform themselves into a new type of organization – one in which change is not a problem to be solved, but rather an indispensable source of energy, growth, and value.
Stephan H. Haeckel is Director of Strategic Studies at IBM’s Advanced Business Institute, where he conducts research, teaches, and advises clients on the use of information and technology to design and implement adaptive enterprises.