Rivers of Energy

Rivers are complex bodies of water. They are defined both by the landscape around and beneath them; in turn, they alter that landscape over time. They have currents and ebbs and flows; they also have bends, falls, rocks, and other obstacles. Some rivers are deep enough to be navigated by ships, whereas others can be traveled only by kayak or canoe. Their variation is endless, and their beauty breathtaking.

Changing the course of a river is exceedingly difficult, sometimes literally requiring moving mountains; nevertheless, we can learn to navigate a river and take full advantage of the energy it generates. We can create more efficient boats that are perfectly suited to the properties of every kind of river. We can learn to ride a river’s whitewater and become better swimmers. We can invent tools to read the contours of river bottoms to better inform navigation. We can build dams to harness the power of a river to generate electricity. In short, though there are many things about a river that are outside of our control or hard to change, when we learn to harness the energy of the river in ways that are within our control, the impact of our efforts multiplies.

We can think about running our organizations in the same way. Some organizations, such as technology companies, may choose to ride the wild, rocky rivers where the waters are swift and the payoff is large. Other organizations, such as traditional manufacturers, may choose to travel the wide, smooth waters—taking ...

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