Never Under-Estimate the (Governance) Immune System

John Hagel:

Every large and successful institution has an immune system – a collection of individuals who are prepared to mobilize at the slightest sign of any “outside” ideas or people in order to ensure that these foreign bodies are neutralized and that the existing institution survives intact and can continue on course. Just like the immune system all organisms have, this institutional immune system is adept at recognizing foreign bodies as soon as they appear and very effective at protecting the institution from infection. It is in fact what has helped large institutions to survive – they are in fact “built to last.”

But here’s the paradox: the immune system that has given large institutions extraordinary resilience in the past may be the very thing that makes these institutions so vulnerable today. In more stable times, institutional immune systems are very effective at keeping institutions focused and on course, resistant to the distractions that might lead to their downfall. In more rapidly changing and volatile signs, this same immune system can become deadly by resisting the very changes that are required for the survival of the institution.

I’ve been writing about the Big Shift for quite a while now. Long-term forces that have been playing out for decades on a global scale are leading to a profound shift in how institutions will need to operate in order to survive, much less thrive, in the decades ahead.