In a comment on my last post, game designer/indie film producer/screenwriter/record producer/blues musician/earliest childhood friend Ken Melville made a fascinating and noteworthy observation:
Groups/corporations have a productivity and creative energy curve that flatlines after a while. You can’t maintain the magic forever. It’s just not new anymore. The excitement is diminished. The market is flooded with your genius products, and there are copycats and natural plateaus. Apple is there. Google is there. Facebook is there. The Beach Boys got there. The Beatles got there.
It's TBD whether Apple, Google, and Facebook have hit their apex, but we do know that no company dominates its field forever. As Richard Foster and Sarah Kaplan point out in their book Creative Destruction: Why Companies That Are Built to Last Underperform the Market—And How to Successfully Transform Them: “El Dorado, the golden company that continually performs better than the markets has never existed. It is a myth.” Some organizations manage to hang on awhile (like those 1300-year-old Japanese hotels), but that's not the same as ruling the market and maintaining the magic.
This raises a key question: should a company try to survive at all costs? More fundamentally, should an organization even be “built to last”? Is that what’s most important?
It seems to me that a business needs a larger purpose than merely existing. It needs to make a difference. It needs to produce value that nobody else does. And if it’s not doing that, why should it last? Why take up space? To quote management guru Tom Peters, a company shouldn’t be built to last, it should be "built to rock the world."
That brings us to Melville’s examples, The Beach Boys and The Beatles, which offer very different solutions.
The Beach Boys decided to keep going no matter what, vainly attempting to recapture the magic of their 1962-1967 period. They scored one more big hit, “Kokomo,” in 1988, but they were a ghost of their former self—minus creative spark plug Brian Wilson—performing endless oldies' tours and recycling past hits.
The Beatles, on the other hand, quit at the top of their game. They weren’t content with a slow fade. In fact, they went out in a blaze—not of glory, but from an explosion of intra-band litigation. Not pretty, but powerful. And befitting the passion of a great band. Creative destruction indeed.
For an earlier post on this topic, check here.