Fast-Paced Industries LO9895
Wed, 11 Sep 96 21:29:28 PDT

Responding to LO9658 (Rol Fessenden) and LO9680 (Ben Compton)

Reading these two notes and other posts on Microsoft as an LO and
refreezing the common theme is speed of change. Several of the examples
given are of software firms but I see it is by no means limited to that
industry. Rather I would make the connection with the use of technology
since many companies in different fields try to exploit rapidly changing
technology as fast as they can absorb it (or faster!).

Rol wonders:
>if the skill sets needed in a rapidly gorwing industry are
>not indeed different than those needed in a more mature
>industry. (SNIP) ...different industries clearly attract
>people with different 'psychologies of work'.

I agree different businesses attract different types of people, working
between bankers and IT staff I see this first hand. However, business and
IT areas now have to work far closer together than 20 or 30 years ago and
I wonder if the skill-set referred to is actually required by all who
try to implement technology-based solutions whatever the core business
area. If so it is not driven by, as Rol suggests, rapidly growing
opposed to more mature industry but rather the degree of use (and speed
of change) of technology within the industry and would summarise the
skill-set Rol refers to actually being the attributes of a rapid
learner within a learning organisation.

Ben responded to Rol and said:
>...One of the problems we have in measuring
>customer satisfaction in my industry is that our competitors
>are constantly releasing new products, with new
>features/functionality, and new service programs.
>Thus, our customer's requirements are in a
>constantly state of flux.

I may be being a bit picky but, from my perspective (developing and
implementing electronic banking systems for Bank customers but also as a
systems customer myself), I suspect the customers requirements, whilst
not static, are not changing so rapidly as the technology that delivers
potential solutions. Thus customers see competing suppliers constantly
presenting different (better?) opportunities to meet their needs and both
suppliers and customers are being driven by the speed of technology change
rather than the underlying business needs. That said, I agree with Bens
point on the difficulties of measuring satisfaction in these
circumstances since one seems to be in a perpetual game of catch up.

Ben continues:
>Speed, speed, speed is the name of the game in my industry.
>Since thinking that perhaps the industrial age model wasn't
>so good for theknowledge-based industry I work in, I began
> to do some serious research. So far, my research is
>showing me that if we are slower than our competitors
>we will not be in business long. In our industry, within a
>years, there will no room for second best.

This echoes my immediate reaction reading Rols note when I thought of the
quote in The Fifth Discipline (p4) from Arie de Geus, former head of
planning for Royal Dutch/Shell: The ability to learn faster than your
competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.

This quote came from de Geuss HBR article Planning as Learning (Mar/Apr
88). Reading that and other Shell-based work on mental models/scenario
planning (Pierre Wacks earlier HBR articles and Peter Schwartzs Art of
the Long View) I am impressed by how Royal Dutch/Shell prepared not only
for rapid change but also for these changes potentially being different to
that expected by management (ie: thinking the unthinkable).

Recently (following a lead from the LO database... Thanks to whomever
pointed it out!), I looked at the MIT Centre for Organisational Learning
web site and there were several articles from Shell Oil (the US unit?). I
was struck by how, over seven years on, the words of de Geuss quote kept
coming through the various peoples contributions. It appears to have been
absorbed into the organisations culture (or at least into its
communications) and the concept of being able to change faster than ones
competitors could be a meme (if I understand the term correctly) absorbed
throughout Shell and that other organisations undergoing rapid change
could infect themselves with it to advantage! It is certainly a lesson
that has been learnt by Microsoft and a message relevant to any
organisation, not just Novell and other software firms, trying to take
advantage of current and future technology changes.

Ben also says:
>Thus speed is everything. (snip) It takes a unique type of
>person to play this game. Those who play it well are
>absolutely driven by an unquenchable passion to constantly

Agreed, and I would add the ability to conceive of or hold multiple mental
models of possible futures.With these one can embrace what competitors are
doing more rapidly. When reacting after the event (eg: Microsoft and the
Internet boom) one can refocus without pulling the organisation apart or
driving individuals into the ground in the process.


Phillip Spencer (if replying please note address: 'phillip' has "double-el")

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <> -or- <>