Inoculating companies against inaction, irrelevance, inflexibility and instability.

New Perspectives :: A Biologist Joins ANTIGENcy Thinking

How do each of the dimensions of business fit with a biological paradigm? Jotting down some thoughts here…

1. Strategic

Organisms evolve. Organizations evolve. How can you understand your organization within the context of the business ecosystem? By understanding the competitive landscape, adaptive peaks, the role of mutability and how to exploit niches.

2. Leadership

In animal behavior, hierarchical properties within a population determine the nature of leadership. What aspects of leadership determine success or failure? The ability to work within the tribe, dominance behavior, the propensity to take risks.

3. Culture

Culture is an emergent property of complex biological processes, not restricted to humans. How is culture defined within a species or society, and what is its role and importance? Culture is comprise of information that passes on through generations. A unit of cultural inheritance is a meme (from Dawkins’ original definition). Defining and understanding memes can provide insight into prevailing cultural trends and their potential impact on an organization.

4. Extemal

Homeostasis is the physiological feedback loop that enables organisms to maintain constant internal environments despite external variations. What processes enable organisms to buffer physiological processes against external changes? Feedback loops within dynamic systems enable information to be transferred to allow adjustment of systemic processes to adapt (locally) and so return to a desired state.

Filed under: 1, About ANTIGENcy, General, management consulting


In immunology, affinity is the attraction of an antibody to an antigen. In the corporate sense, affinity is the attraction of a solution to a problem. Simple huh? Not really.

Yesterday I was “attacked” by an immunologist in the RTP who thought my metaphor was preposterous and worse, lame. He claimed that it was again, opportunistic marketing looking for a new trend. He went on to politely discard my idea as moronic and told me that I didn’t know enough about science to draw from it. Probably. But fuck him.  By that logic we all must stop saying “Rocket Science” or “Rocket Surgery.”

I heard what he was saying. I even agreed with him on a base level. Beyond that, what an idiot! He claimed that I ought to know what I was talking about before I ventured into the pristine science of immunology.

Here is what I want and what I am doing:

I believe we are all heading into an evolved state of business. A state that is now capable of moving, changing, replicating, infecting, killing other businesses. It has always happened, it is now just happening faster. And in the future it will move yet faster. We will learn to adapt to it. But how will we learn? What is the most effective way to set ourselves up to the task of seeing, accepting and adapting to business change?

I am arguing that by borrowing from biology, we can create new frameworks to see, accept/reject, create, adapt and inoculate in ways that create advantage. I want to help change perspective. To create a new environment to see things through a metaphor that extends one’s perceptions.

I am mapping out what I believe are to be generally accepted hierarchies of problems (antigens) that are or will affect a company’s well being (body). There are a lot of them.  I am creating parallels between management consulting and immunology to help me frame methods for dealing with these problems by using creative/unconventional solutions like design thinking (antibodies).

What is most interesting so far is how well the science of immunology and the art of enterprise transformation correspond to one another. It makes me wonder why I wasn’t thinking about this while working on my last big digital transformation consultation last year.

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Gary Hamel asks a Great Question

Gary Hamel’s terrific question: What’s the one thing your company could do to lessen the gravitational pull of the past?

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Design transfusion

— reposting an article i wrote earlier on a different site–

I am keen on Marty Neumier’s new book the Designful Company because it handsomely mirrors the work I have been doing lately. I felt like the book provided me with a peer sensibility. If you design transformation for a living, you may now have your very own bible. Thanks Marty. I think this book is great and by a significant margin, it is your best.

Here are a two excerpts that really made me think:

1.) “To build an innovative culture, a company must keep itself in a perpetual state of reinvention. Radical ideas must be the norm, not the exception…Companies don’t fail because they choose the wrong course–they fail because they can’t imagine a better one.”

2.) The management model that got us here is underpowered to move us forward. Are we getting better and better at a management model that is getting wronger and wronger?

For me, working in a pure knowledge services industry, things like this have me wondering, is it right to measure what we are measuring? If the industry we are in is going to steadily become saturated (and we would be smart to hedge against rise in competitive sameness) with new stronger entrants, it will be wise for comapnies to seek competitive diferentiation more aggressively. It is no longer enough to be better.

It makes me think of the Daft Punk line, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.”

When the economy sucks and you’re responsible for making several ends of the company meet, you have to think differently to stay ahead or stay alive. Sometimes companies need to transfuse to transform. They need to get the old stuff, way of thinking, processes and pragmatism out and let some new in. Why? Because things are changing. The way people interact and the way your company meets the demands of its customers is undergoing transformation. It is wise to pay close attention to this. The old stuff can bog the company down.

For the last month I have been working with a North Carolina health care insurer to help them with social media focusing on how it impacts their business. Much of my involvement in their transformation has been thinking about their organization as a body undergoing a strategic transfusion. They have most everything they need and the most talented people I have met, they just needed a change or a course of fresh, objective, outside thinking to revitalize their culture, operations and team.

Marty has also widely pointed out many diagnostics why companies are feeling the abrupt need to change. I love his list.

Here is what The Designful Company claims is happening:
• Customers are controlling the company
• Jobs are becoming avenues of self-expression
• The barriers to competition are no longer controllable
• Strangers design our products and services
• Fewer features are better
• Advertising is becoming counter-effective
• Demographics are beside the point
• Whatever you sell, you take back
• Best practices are obsolete at birth
• Meaning talks
• Money walks
• Stability is fantasy
• Talent trumps obedience
• Imagination beats knowledge
• Empathy trounces logic

I know change sucks for most but when you are in the business of helping organizations make the most strategic change happen in the most economical way, this is great. I look for more writing and interaction on this topic and I applaud Marty for sticking his neck out and writing this book. I am sure there are many six sigma blackbelts and hard core pragmatists who see this great book as having little value. We’ll see.

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Illustration supporting ANTIGENcy

antigency illo2

Here is an illustration by a fairly well-known illustrator named Stephen Spencer from Columbus, OH.

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Great Quote from C. Otto Scharmer in “Theory U”

“Across the board, we collectively create outcomes (and side effects) that
nobody wants. Yet the key decision makers do not feel capable of redirecting this course of events in any significant way. They feel just as trapped as the rest of us in what often seems to be a race to the bottom.

The same problem affects our massive institutional failure: we haven’t learned to mold, bend, and transform our centuries-old collective patterns of thinking, conversing, and institutionalizing to fit the realities of today.”

What a great use of words.

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Understanding Some Origins of Management Consulting

I was poking around Wikipedia, reading about “Formula for Change” created by Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher. I am curious how much applicability there is to ANTIGENcy in these models…and vice versa.

They created a model to help evaluate the propensity for an organization to change. It looks like this:

D x V x F > R

Three factors must be present for meaningful organizational change to take place. These factors are:
D = Dissatisfaction with how things are now;
V = Vision of what is possible;
F = First, concrete steps that can be taken towards the vision.

If the product of these three factors is greater than
R = Resistance,

then change is possible. Because of the multiplication of D, V and F, if any one is absent or low, then the product will be low and therefore not capable of overcoming the resistance.

To ensure a successful change it is necessary to use influence and strategic thinking in order to create vision and identify those crucial, early steps towards it. In addition, the organization must recognize and accept the dissatisfaction that exists by communicating industry trends, leadership ideas, best practice and competitive analysis to identify the necessity for change.

What this allows managers to do is to isolate the actual problem areas of change and develop unique strategies specifically designed to resolve the correct form of resistance.

Okay. So what this means is that given most organizations, like most people, have a hard time seeing introspectively, they are most likely to not change.

I like how this begins to isolate individual parts of resistance so they can be addresses “atomically” and all the players and pieces can enjoy more transparency.

I think every organization I have ever been with, worked for or against, had massive difficulty seeing and feeling the dissatisfaction. It is about admitting something. Like an alcholic admitting they have an important issue, they aren’t likely to.

The second variable, the vision of what’s possible, is the easy part. Who cannot see something better? This feels like table stakes.

The third variable is precisely what ANTIGENcy is about. Being able to isolate the specific challenges or friction an organization feels and doing something about it. Especially with respect to internal cultural dynamics.

In any case, I like how this formula helps people who know change is necessary see the possibility deconstructed.

If you are a CEO and your org’s performance isn’t what it should be, know that there will be ample resistance if you have the willingness to start change. I’ve been there and sludged through it. It isn’t pretty but for each time I have walked through the “tunnel of change, ” I learned to embrace the resistance and understand it from all angles before taking that first step.

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Corporate Antigens :: Application Along Nine Dimensions

ANTIGENcy is an unconventional framework to be applied to the conventions of business management. It allows people to anticipate and isolate weakness in their organizations by viewing them through the lens of immunology and epidemiology.

If immunology is about understanding and manipulating an immune system against unwanted strains, ANTIGENcy is about anticipating and understanding an organization’s weaknesses along several dimensions and doing something about it. Those dimensions, so far, are;
1. Strategic
2. Leadership
3. Culture (human capital)
4. External (marketing, advertising, etc.)
5. Technology
6. Operations (process & methods)
7. Sales (revenue & profit)
8. Environment (physical space & location)
9. Knowledge & learning

The ANTIGENcy strawman concept was created by mashing-up management consulting and vaccine science. This mash-up allows companies to gain prescience along these dimensions by proactively running through scenarios to address found weaknesses in each. Think “spectrum analysis.” These weaknesses can be found by creating antigens for which an organization can consequentially react/adapt to by developing antibodies.

Different than conventional and reactive challenge-solution approaches to management consulting, the ANTIGENcy model is recombinant and evolving. The more the approach is used, the more value it brings to the particpants by virtue of its growing database of management antigens and subsequent antibodies. The universe of antigens and antibodies are meant to grow and benefit their hosts progressively.

The ANTIGENcy model brings a the entire database of antigens to bear providing organizations a potential innoculation against unknown strains. While conventional management consulting is normally the pedestian application of known solution(s) to relatively known problem(s), ANTIGENcy is the broad and deliberate exposure to a spectrum of “challenges” with the goal of strengthening weaknesses that are both known and unknown.

The nascent goal of ANTIGENcy is to be run through open source means by a growing number of practitioners.

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Nosocomial = Infections From Within

There is a great term explaining infections that come from within a hospital. It is “nosocomial.” Because hospitals are essentially a zoo of rapidly mutating illnesses growing within people with compromised immune systems.

I liken this to many business cultures or communities. Within any company you will find cultures where “infections” are born, mutate and multiply under a specific management structure, leadership style or attitude. And they are always specific to one company.  When creative or innovative thinkers enter into this culture, they may be susceptible or become exposed to nosocomial strains.

Think about it. What do company cultures do to onboard new people? They get them in the door and begin acculturate them. If your culture is one that foster’s thinking, creativity, innovation and functions like a meritocracy, granted that is what you want, you first must have the right culture. Otherwise you are bringing new people into an environment where their “fit” is determined by how much they think like everyone else, to some extent. And if that baseline isn’t what will get your organization to point B, you have a problem.

We suggest you think carefully about the culture you foster. To what extent is that culture the one you know will support the future of your work. Conversely, how long until you infect the new gal with your specific strains. Or worse, kill them off.

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One Powerful Antigen :: Staff Departures

People leave their employers for many reasons. At any given time, up to 20% of the average company’s staff is preparing to leave. This could mean they are adjusting their resumes, searching online for other jobs, updating Linked In and sifting through Monster or Careerbuilder RSS feeds while you are paying them for their allegiance.

So if you have 1000 employees, 150 of them per year will quit for one reason or another. This is typically an ongoing cycle that most companies willingly accept for lack of understanding.

Now for the harsh reality. Multiply 150 annual staff departures by $13,500 which is the average cost to interview, hire, train and integrate an employee who makes $50,000/year.

That’s $2,0250,000 per year in HR costs because 150 people aren’t engaged, challenges or satisfied as they need to be.

Lack of employee engagement is one of the antigens in our database. This antigen costs the average 1000 person company over $2 million/year.

While we are building the antigen (lack of employee engagement) we are also building the antibody (deeper engaged employee loyalty) to counter effects of this killer.

If I were in charge of human capital or served in any HR function, this would demand some of my focus.

This is an example of what ANTIGENcy is hired to do.

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