Cass R. Sunstein and Reid Haste ask in Wiser—Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter: “Suppose that you are a leader of an organization and that is not doing well, perhaps because it is stuck in old ways of thinking…What can you do?”
After asking this question the authors offer the example of Intel: “Intel Corporation, a large American corporation, faced exactly this problem in the 1980s. After fourteen years of profits it was losing a lot of business in the memory chip market, which it had pioneered. In a dramatic move, the company decided to abandon the entire market,” write the authors.
Why did Intel make this decision? Andrew Grove, who at that point of time was the President of Intel and later become its CEO as well as Chairman recounts in his book Only the Paranoid Survive: “I remember a time in the middle of 1985, after this aimless wandering had been going on for almost a year. I was in my office with Intel’s chairman and CEO, Gordon Moore, and we were discussing our quandary. Our mood was downbeat. I looked out [of] the window at the Ferris wheel of the Great America amusement park revolving in the distance, then I turned to back to Gordon and I asked, “If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what do you think he would do?” Gordon answered without hesitation, “He would get us out of memories.” I stared at him, numb, then said, “Why shouldn’t you and I walk out the door, come back and do it ourselves?””
This a very simple story which has a huge lesson. Organizations which are stuck in the old way of doing things need to get rid of their memories. “For Intel, it initiated a spectacularly successful strategy. The story suggests that when a group is aimlessly wandering or on a path that does not seem so good, it is an excellent idea to ask, “If we brought in new leadership, what would it do? Asking that simple question can break through a host of conceptual traps,” write Sunstein and Haste.
This is something that young managers and the top leadership of the companies need to ask themselves. The companies’ core idea has been rejected by the consumers, for the simple reason that it has been espousing the idea for many decades now.
Gurcharan Das makes a very interesting point in India Unbound about family owned businesses. As he writes: “Pulin Garg, the thoughtful professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad…used to say, “Haweli ki umar saath saal (The life of a family owned business is sixty years).”
As Das writes: “Thomas Mann expressed…in Buddenbrooks, arguably the finest book ever written about family business. It describes the saga of three generations: in the first generation the scruffy and astute patriarch works hard and makes money. Born into money, the second generation does not want more money. It wants power…Born into money and power, the third generation dedicates itself to art. So the aesthetic but physically weak grandson plays music. There is no one to look after the business and it is the end of the…family.”