Does a living organization have to follow some predefined set of behaviors? Does it live to some performance levels or moral and ethical standards? The Living Organization® Model is not a one-size-fits-all model. Amazon provides an interesting study into how one can understand what is a living organization.
A recent New York Time article about Amazon “Prime Mover: How Amazon Wove Itself into the Life of an American City” (https://tinyurl.com/uc5s73y) describes how Amazon has renewed and restored two old shuttered manufacturing sites in Baltimore MD, a Bethlehem Steel plant and a General Motors factory.
The article repeatedly draws comparisons between how the old plant operated to how Amazon operates. The article challenges many of Amazon’s practices and its impact on our society.
“Baltimore offers in microcosm the contentious issues that Amazon’s conduct has raised nationally: The erosion of brick-and-mortar retail. Modestly paid warehouse work and the looming job destroyer of automation. An aggressive foray into government and institutional procurement, driving local suppliers to partner with Amazon or face decline. A swift expansion in air cargo, challenging FedEx and U.P.S. The neighborhood spread of video and audio surveillance. And the steady conquest of the computing infrastructure that underlies commerce, government and communications, something like an electric utility — except without the regulation imposed on utilities.”
There is no doubt that Amazon is a disruptor, and quite a unique one. It is not only disrupting one industry; it is disrupting many. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Is Amazon a Living Organization or some evil machine?
First, Amazon is a Living Organization simply because it exists. All organizations are living beings and their success is determined by the same universal principles that determine how all living beings manifest outcomes. These principles go beyond specific behaviors, beyond the specific activities of an organization. These principles involve who they (the collective organization) are being while they are doing what they are doing.
Just because some of its behaviors are not to our liking or what we might consider activities of a “healthy organization,” Amazon still follows the laws of being a living organization. Just as a person who smokes, drinks, and sits in front of a TV is still a person. Perhaps not very healthy, but still a person. Amazon may not be a healthy living organization, according to our terms of healthy, and it is still a living organization.
From the NY Times article one might also question, does it have a Soulful Purpose™? From my perspective, it clearly does. Its purpose is to make life easy for customers to get what they want. To this end, it is relentlessly driven. Amazon experiences phenomenal growth because of complete commitment to its Soulful Purpose. It is consistently living and being its Soulful Purpose.
This is the key to understanding Amazon. As I said, they are a unique disruptor. Unlike other industry disruptors they cross many industries. That is because they are focused on disrupting distribution itself and distribution crosses all industry boundaries. The way they are disrupting distribution is by focusing on their Soulful Purpose to make life easier for people to get what they want, when they want it.
No one in any existing industry likes a disruptor, yet everyone who benefits from them loves how they have changed the game. Think Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, SpaceX, 23andMe, WeWork and many others. Their success is based on seeing the world through new eyes, seeing beyond serving their customers through existing means and creating new ways to serve their customers.
Helping companies understand how they too can serve their customers in a new way is one of the key steps in our 7-Step Strategic Compass™. It allows a company to find how to align its core strengths and its Soulful Purpose to the deep, unserved needs of its customers. Thus, they can disrupt their industry before someone else does.
Another key step in our process is to understand the environment we live in. For example, one client who is in the distribution business is rightly concerned about Amazon. Though Amazon is not yet involved in their particular segment of distribution, we all know it is only a matter of time.
If we look at all the companies who have survived Amazon’s disruption into their industry, they offer something that Amazon cannot offer. Usually it is a higher-level customer experience, beyond just providing the product.
In a recent Associated Press article about the recent growth in independent bookstores across the country, Tom Meyvis, marketing professor at New York University says, “The way to get people to go to stores is to give them an experience, something they can’t get online.” You can get convenience online, but you cannot get a human experience, a relationship experience
Our client has a unique strength in understanding hard to find information on the technical complexities of their products. Our strategy is to become known as the place to go for hard-to-find parts and technical knowledge. An experience that offers the human touch, an experience you can’t get online.
The challenge for most companies today is to find their unique gifts, what they can offer better than anyone else and serve customers in ways no one else can. This is what it means to be a living organization.