Active Inertia: Why Good Companies Go Bad

The Economist has just begun a series on “big ideas” in management thinking. These may be the buzzwords of the past, but many of them are worth understanding.
Active Inertia. That’s how successful companies (and governments) lose their way. Here’s how Don Sull explains his idea:
My research suggests that companies fall prey to active inertia—responding to even the most disruptive market shifts by accelerating activities that succeeded in the past. When the world changes, organizations trapped in active inertia do more of the same. A little faster perhaps or tweaked at the margin, but basically the same old same old. Managers often equate inertia with inaction, like the tendency of a billiard ball at rest to remain immobile. But executives in failing companies unleash a flurry of initiatives—indeed they typically work more frenetically than their counterparts at competitors which adapt more effectively. Organizations trapped in active inertia resemble a car with its back wheels stuck in a rut. Managers step on the gas. Rather than escape the rut, they only dig themselves in deeper.
What Sull says is that we get trapped in our assumptions in the following areas:
Strategic frames: What we see when we look at the world, including definition of industry, relevant competitors and how to create value.
Processes: How we do things around here entailing both informal and formal routines.
Resources: Tangible and intangible assets that we control which help us compete, such as brand, technology, real estate, expertise, etc.
Relationships: Established links with external stakeholders including investors, technology partners or distributors
Values: Beliefs that inspire, unify and identify us.
So we just dig a deeper hole.
How do we get out of the mess? It starts with a sense of urgency.
By the way, this idea of active inertia applies at the individual level as well. How many of us go through life doing the same thing over and over?

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