Learning: Have Courage to Cannibalize

The Road to Reinvention author Josh Linkner says it’s your job to make what you’re doing today obsolete.

The Road to Reinvention author Josh Linkner says it’s your job to make what you’re doing today obsolete.

Even experienced CEOs can fail miserably at organizational reinvention, and venture capitalist and bestselling author Josh Linkner knows why.

“More often than not, you have a confidence issue more than a competence issue with the leader,” he says. “If organizations can encourage courage among their leaders, and they’re willing to take responsible risk, they can break down the competence part of reinvention into systematized, bite-sized chunks. The bigger problem is that people are afraid to change, to take risks, to try something new.”

They especially fear anything that may kill Golden Goose-type products or services. That’s where the courage to cannibalize comes in.

Linkner points to Polaroid Corporation, a half-century leader in instant photography that’s now bankrupt. “People told senior leaders, ‘We’ve got to change. We’ve got to go digital. We’ve got to adapt,’ but they were consistently met with the response, ‘We don’t want to cannibalize our core business,’” says Linkner. “It’s a huge trap, because it implies you can prevent external innovation. That didn’t work for Polaroid, and it won’t work for you, either.”

He advises instead to accept that someday an organization will emerge to try to put you out of business, so it might as well be you.

“If you think of yourself as the cannibal—that your job is to proactively make what you’re doing today obsolete—then sustainable leadership occurs,” Linkner says.

Chief among cannibals are technology companies, which assume every product renders prior versions irrelevant. “Such planned obsolescence forces people not to get too comfortable with the current state and to always push boundaries for what can be,” he says. “Unfortunately, this [leadership mindset] doesn’t happen in many places.”

(Adrian Burke/Getty Images)

Kristin Clarke, CAE

By Kristin Clarke, CAE

Kristin Clarke, CAE, is books editor for Associations Now and president of Clarke Association Content. MORE

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