In the traditional organization, there has always been a problem with the role of so-called middle managers. Do you know why Ford can’t make a car as good as Volvo does? It goes back to back to the middle managers. Steve and I visited several car shows together, and we were always amazed at the so-called concept cars. The designs were magnificent, but we knew from experience that none of those cars would be turned into production models that customers could buy.
Why? Because the companies weren’t following the lead of their head designers, their creators, their thinkers—people who were coming up with breakthrough technologies, only to be defeated by middle management.
Too often, middle managers are wage earners who see any change, however small, as a risk. Confidence lies in continuity, in continuing with what worked yesterday.
This was the culture I saw at IBM. Innovation there, it seemed to me, happened largely when the company acquired an outside firm that had developed some innovative new technology, or when IBM spun off a unit that was then able to function beyond the reach of the IBM corporate-think.
Within most large U.S. companies, innovation isn’t impossible but usually requires such a struggle that the true innovators either leave or become plodders who have discovered that their best ideas are not likely to see the light of day and have just given up. Too often it’s incredibly defeating to try to be innovative ...