Planning to endure

From David Isenberg’s classic essay — “The Rise of the Stupid Network”

Former Shell Group Planning Head, Arie deGeus, in his master work, The Living Company (Harvard, Boston, 1997), examined thousands of companies to try to discover what it takes to adapt to changing conditions. He found that the life expectancy of the average company was only 40 years – this means that telephone company culture is in advanced old age. De Geus also studied 27 companies that had been able to survive over 100 years. He concluded that managing for longevity – to maximize the chances that a company will adapt to changes in the business climate – is very different than managing for profit. For example, in the former, employees are part of a larger, cohesive whole, a work community. In the latter, employees are ‘resources’ to be deployed or downsized as business dictates.

This is interesting in the context of the Google Book Agreement, the responsibilities of academic libraries in the area of digital preservation and curation and the Arcadia Project. When people say to me (about digitisation) “Why not let Google [rather than, say, the University Library] do it?” I ask them to name commercial companies that have been around for 800 years.