The Lesson Ancient Civilisations Left For Modern Business

Two thousand years ago, location was a really big deal. Having access to resources or limited competition or friendly weather systems drastically affected the success of a civilisation. As technology grew, location became less important.

For example, once farming irrigation developed, it was less important for you crops to be next to a river.

This same principle rings true for our organisations.

It turns out that many factors become less important as technology grows and the world shrinks. I read a book series titled ‘The Story of Civilisation’. The authors claim, “Only the imagination and initiative of leaders, and the hardy industry of followers, can transform possibilities into fact.”

In each of our industries, we attempt to transform possibilities into facts. Only a similar combination can make a culture take form despite a thousand natural obstacles.

Because of this, they conclude, “Man, not the earth, makes civilisation.”

If the importance of geographic and competitive factors matters less over time, then what predicts the human factors, our ability to engage in collective effort, that uniquely transform possibility into fact?

Two essential human factors are innovation and execution.

Most of the literature we read suggests we need to pick between the two. If you’re competing in a commodity industry you focus on execution.  If you’re competing in high value-added services, then innovation is most important even at the expense of your ability to execute predictably.

But we wondered, ‘Are there organisations that are capable of both innovation and execution? and how does innovation combined with execution increase the capacity to produce results?’.

If we’re a military organisation, we need a culture that respects authority and chain of command. If we’re in electronic consumer products, we value autonomy hoping to boost our innovation. If we’re in hospitality or financials, we look for unique attributes from employees to reflect the industry.

We’ve found that there are organisational operating systems that improve our capacity to innovate, execute, stabilise, and adapt.

Too often we focus on the tip of the iceberg: the application level. We look for a unique strategy, process, or product we need for a specific situation and hope they’ll make a lasting change throughout our entire organisation.

Instead, we want to go deeper to uncover the cultural operating system that predicts the success of our organisation.

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