Reacting or Responding – Why fast corporations move so slow…

01 Aug

Ever seen a large animal get a shot?  I mean – really big – like, a horse or an elephant?  A big needle – usually about 2-4 inches long – about as big around as the Holland tunnel – gets stuck into the animal and you would think the animal would jump like two feet vertically when this happens but they don’t – not at first anyway. 

The reason for this is the bigger the animal – the longer it takes for the pain to get to the brain.  It’s that simple.  Corporations are the same way.  You want them to do something – you gotta either make it hurt realllllly bad, or you have to wait for the message to go all the way from where you are – to the brains that decide what to do about it and then back to you. 

Which brings me to the question of the month for anyone in Project or Program Management – "Do you work in a Reactive or Responsive workplace?". 

And you may ask – what’s the difference, you react to something it’s the same thing as responding to it. And… if you’re asking that question then you get the "Hey here’s a prime example of the problem!" award for the week. No really.  You do. 

Here’s a quick explanation for the non-Agile (Agile in the sense of Agile Project Management)  minded out there.  A doctor comes up to you shoves a flashlight in your eye and then jerks it away, he does this two or three times.  He’s not measuring how well you accept being blinded by light – but the responsiveness of your pupil.  He wants to see if you react – or if you respond.  You React to the light that’s shined into your eye by closing your pupil, but you Respond – by when the light is taken away your pupil goes back to normal. 

Let’s do that again so you see the difference – Reacting is what you do when an action is taking place, Responding is what you do after it’s happened.  Smaller companies have to react to situations.  Here’s how this plays out in the real world and why corporations get criticized for not being agile.  Little guy sees he can’t get a pink therblig for his desktop.  He creates one (he sees an action and reacts to that action while the action is still happening… the lack of a pink therblig for his desktop).  Mega-Juno Corp sees that Little Guy has created a pink therblig and this is doing very well so they create a variety of therbligs as a response. 

Why didn’t Mega-Juno pick up that people wanted a therblig?  It’s pretty simple the needle (the pain) wasn’t big enough.  Often times therbligs are being created by Mega-corps but they can’t them out the door before someone else does it first.  So even though they have 10 years of research … they get slammed for not producing anything new. 

They respond.  Little companies react. 

So if that’s all that it takes why doesn’t a Mega become a reactor instead of responder?  Simple… the answer can be found at the Small Business Administrations statistics – or actually the US Governments statistics on small businesses.  For every small business out there a third of them fail in the first two years, and 44% of them – almost half fail in the first five years.   Why?  Bad management, bad business plannning, bad business model – there’s lots of reasons, and some of them just fail because they have a product no one wants.  To keep that from happening the ones that succeed tend to operate more like larger companies do.  Why?  Because larger companies plan for things – takes a bit more time to make sure your decisions are correct, but it doubles the chances of your survival. 

So here’s how it works – the larger you become, the less agile you seem to be able to become.  That’s the common thought.  But … what if that thinking is wrong.  What if there was a way for mega-corps to react… instead of respond to their markets?


….  I’ll leave you with that thought until next week.  Chew on it.  There is an answer – more than one of them actually – and I’ll get into details on that after you’ve thought about it.

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Posted by on August 1, 2008 in Uncategorized


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