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The Solution

About Scaling Edges: A pragmatic pathway to broad internal change

Getting around the 'great wall' of organizational resistance requires financial and political pragmatism and more importantly, a shift in mindset regarding how and where transformation opportunities should be pursued.

So far, we have outlined the opportunity, imperatives, and challenges to change for large organizations. Simply put, many firms may need to enact major change and transform their mindset in order to survive and prosper in tomorrow’s world. What is heartening, however, is that the same technological shifts that make change imperative are also making large-scale change more viable. Disruptive technologies, including social media, cloud computing, mobile broadband, and big data analytics are new tools that companies can use to reduce the investment for and increase the impact of major change initiatives. Firms can leverage these new platforms not only as marketing tools, but also in the development and testing of new, non-core initiatives, making these projects less likely to draw fire from the core and more likely to succeed.

How should companies begin to leverage these technologies to create major change? The key, as we stated earlier, is to resist messing with core operations. Instead, firms must find ‘edge’ initiatives on the periphery of their organization that have the potential to scale through the use of disruptive technologies, and eventually, transform the core.

Imagine a large and established manufacturing firm with a set of ‘core’ operations. As we discussed previously, trying to significantly alter these operations may be met with hostility, even if the changes are aligned with technological shifts within the industry. Imagine now that this same firm made an investment in a peripheral initiative, an “edge,” that was so small it escaped political scrutiny. Imagine that the edge was given complete autonomy from traditional core practices (and resources) and instead found creative ways to leverage technology and an external network to scale. Without igniting resistance from the core, this project could have the ability to transform or even replace the core entirely if aligned with foundational changes within the industry.

Even the U.S. Army, one of the largest and most traditional institutions in the United States has been able to transform its processes via an edge. In 2000, Army Captains Nate Allen, Tony Burgess and Pete Kilner saw the need for new ways to connect company commanders past, present and future. In order to improve knowledge flows between these commanders, the two founded What began as an informal forum hosted on civilian servers eventually gained momentum both with army commanders and across other branches of the military as well. Today, Company Command has over 70,000 unique visits per month and has played a significant role in transforming the way that commanders learn, as well as the military’s feelings towards social media.

An edge can be a new customer segment, geographic market, or product which has the potential to eventually transform a company's core business

Successfully executing an edge initiative is not easy; getting around the ‘great wall’ of organizational resistance requires financial and political pragmatism and, more importantly, a shift in mindset regarding how, and where, transformation opportunities should be pursued. In this light, organizations will be well advised to focus on edge opportunities to pursue held separate from their core operations. Once these opportunities are identified and shielded from the antibodies of the core, edges should leverage external networks and resources in order to overcome common obstacles to scaling. Finally, the edge must quickly iterate in order to accelerate learning and compress the time between investment and return. Pursuing an edge and creating the correct environment for the edges can help to overcome the three large issues that arise when attempting to enact major change within the core:

Problem: Changing the core has an uncertain return
Pathway: Focus to maximize upside potential

Problem: Changing the core requires a great deal of resources
Pathway: Leverage to minimize investment required

Problem: Changing the core requires a great deal of time
Pathway: Accelerate to compress lead times

To begin, we must examine these three key levers in more detail. To gain a more exhaustive and robust understanding how to create a pragmatic pathway to change, we refer you to the Key Design Principles section, which provides a greater detail around each component of our approach.

Understand the key design principles

Interact with the framework

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