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  • Writer's pictureNiki Ernst

The Athletic Company

Recently, I have been partly involved in a global company, looking for partners to help them on their journey, transforming 140 Sites to an Agile Organization.

Agile seems to be the current “Religion” – paraphrasing my inspiring friend Erez Tsalik, who beliefs that we have a tradition in praising religions in business: in the late 1990ies, our Religion was Change Management, then we started talking about Design Thinking and now Agile ranks high in the belief-system of many companies, worldwide.

In a nutshell, we are talking about flat organizations (there is no such thing, by the way: I call this a sunshine-day-situation. On rainy days, hierarchies and structures will always play a crucial role, unless you want to create an organization of snowflakes that never feel responsible in an earthquake). Next pillar is customer centric product invention. Customer Centric. I love it. I think, most of the organizations still operate $$ centric. They run “Sprints” with the desperate hope that being faster will turn them into being better.

And much more. Of course, I am simplifying. Actually, I think Agile has a lot of useful concepts within.

The Athletic Organization needs constant training. Flex your muscles

Nevertheless, my biggest concern is for those pitiable panic driven organizations with one big fear in common: “will I still be in business, 10 years from today?”

So what comes next? I hope that no one has a doubt that there will be something coming next. We don’t think, Agile will be our final religion, will we? No, we don’t.

I think, the biggest challenge, organizations will face, is actually being all of the above:

We want great Leaders

We want flat organizations

We want to act fast and agile

We want stability and structure

We want to innovate customer centric, but we know that the most innovative and game-changing innovations were those, no one ever asked for. The iPhone is maybe the best example: we had our PDAs, we had our MP3 players and we had our NOKIA Phones. And we loved all of the above. Three industries were disrupted at the same time with a device that combined all of the three in one form-factor.

Seth Godin once said, “Management is the art of doing something that might not work”. Thats a hard nut to crack and even harder to sell: would you dare saying this in an interview as your biggest strength: “I am really good at things that might not work”? Probably not. 

I think, bigger than yet another Religion and maybe even more of a long-lasting concept is something, I call the “Athletic Organization”. 

The comparison to an athlete should already make clear, what it is about:

Understand what you are really good at - and work hard on it, every day. An athletic organisation identifies one thing and wants to be best at it.

The biggest competitor of an athletic organization is the athletic organization, itself. This organization defines every day as the bar to overcome, the next day. Basically being better than yesterdays version of this organization.

The athletic organization understands both muscle-play and being humble.

The athletic organization has a coach that squeezes out the maximal performance in every possible situation. This coach is called market.

The athletic organization fails with pride. Stands up, wipes the dust from its shoulders and runs back into the fight.

The athletic organization masters team-play. In a combination of coordination and collaboration.The best players in the industry play in the Athletic Organization. Because if you want to go guns blazing, you should never come shooting blanks.

We constantly behave like pendulums that go from one extrem to another. I fully endorse that we have left an era of treating employees in a top-down fear-cultured manner. And I like the volleyball-courts and the arcades and the many restaurants and micro-kitchens in Silicon Valley. 

It might not look like it, but we are in a muscle-flex game, so y’all better develop muscles. Like now. Right now.

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