Michael Tushman PhD ’76 worries a lot about inertia in successful companies. The more successful they become, he argues, the more risk-averse and the less likely to tinker and innovate. Tushman offers a simple list of such firms in his first chapter. For the leaders of companies such as Sears and Polaroid, he argues, management became an end in itself over leadership. Exploiting the company’s strengths, rather than exploring new markets and new products, became each company’s downfall.
Tushman and co-author Charles A. O’Reilly III guide readers through such cautionary tales in Lead and Disrupt: How to Solve the Innovator’s Dilemma. Listen to an interview with Tushman in this edition of the Alumni Books version of the Slice of MIT Podcast.
Besides conducting post-mortems on the skeletons of former corporate giants, Tushman and O’Reilly hail the successful self-disruption and balanced explore and exploit models achieved by a dozen or more firms both large and small.
There’s firms like Amazon and IBM in this book, of course, but also a firm like the Ball Corporation, which set out wishing to provide the world with mason jars. Over a century later, they are now a leader in the aerospace industry.
“What we’ve learned from the Ball Corporation is the power of overarching identity,” says Tushman. “When you have identities—in this case they aspired to be the world’s greatest container corporation—you’re able to play these inconsistent games well simultaneously.”
Lead and Disrupt is very much a how-to guide for the entrepreneurial class but also for those middle-managers in large corporations aiming to become great leaders.
“Great organizations can both lead their particular product class as well as disrupt themselves,” says Tushman. “We have marshalled both our research and the research of the field to speak to this question of the role in senior leaders in creating organizations that can be ambidextrous, can operate both in the past and the future.”
Listen to the entire Slice of MIT Podcast archive by the MIT Alumni Association’s Soundcloud page.