One of the tenets of forestry is that periodically you need to create a controlled burn so that the dead trees are disposed of and don’t become fuel for a wildfire. These controlled burns clean out dead wood and keep the forest healthy and vibrant. In business, the same principle applies. Sometimes you need to create a controlled burn to clear out what isn’t working in the business and keep the rest healthy and flourishing.
A company built to last does not persist unchanged. It recognizes when it is time to destroy and recreate itself. American Express started its life as a courier service, as did Wells Fargo. Now both are financial companies. Kimberly Clark started life operating paper mills, now they are a personal and health care company.
Young companies are born to pursue a purpose. Whether built by an individual or a group, a business starts with a vision, and entrepreneurs figure out what is necessary to realize the vision. As companies mature, their focus shifts to means. They systematize processes and build operating manuals. This natural evolution is necessary to build scale, but it also has a dark side. People tend to forget the purpose and start following the rules. While operations are crucial to a company’s success, it must be able to adapt to avoid becoming a program rather than an intelligent, adapting organization.
If the only reason you do something a certain way is because that’s how it has always been done, it may be time to burn the process. Never stop looking for ways to apply your core competencies to new fields. You never know where the true future of an organization lies.