Chapter 8. Connected companies learn

If you can run the company a bit more collaboratively, you get a better result, because you have more bandwidth and checking and balancing going on.

Larry Google Page

We are accustomed to thinking of companies as machines. But machines can’t learn, and therefore they can’t adapt. Learning is a property of organisms.

The Company as a Machine

Historically, we have thought of companies as machines, and we have designed them like we design machines. A machine typically has the following characteristics:

  1. It’s designed to be controlled by a driver or operator.

  2. It needs to be maintained, and when it breaks down, you fix it.

  3. A machine pretty much works in the same way its entire life. Eventually, things change, or the machine wears out, and you need to build or buy a new one.

A car is a perfect example of machine design. It’s controlled by a driver. Mechanics perform routine maintenance and fix it when it breaks down. Eventually, the car wears out, or your needs change, so you sell the car and buy a new one.

We tend to design companies the way we design machines. We think we need the company to perform a certain function, so we design and build it to perform that function.

The machine view is very successful in a stable environment. If there is a steady, predictable demand for a standard, uniform product, then machines are very efficient and productive. In such conditions, a machine-like company can profit by producing uniform items in large lots.

But over time, ...

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