The world is changing. 10 years ago, I took cabs by hailing a taxi. With my arm. I bought glasses by trying them on at the optometrists. I searched for information by going to the library. I bought shoes at Nordstrom. I watched movies by going to Blockbuster.

Uber. Warby Parker. Google. Amazon. Netflix.

These companies have changed the way we move. The way we see. The way we search. The way we buy things. The way we rent movies. 

So what do these companies have in common? I've rambled on about my adoration for Uber before. I've purchased glasses from a Warby Parker clone (sorry Neil, y'all don't ship to Australia). I'm proud member/evangelist of Amazon Prime. I've wracked my brain & scratched my head over this one & tried really hard to figure out why I'm so entranced by the meteorite rise of these companies.

The things that make these companies so dang attractive aren't free food (Google), unlimited holidays (Netflix), a social mission (Warby Parker) or wicked mission statements (Example - Amazon Kindle, whose mission statement is "Every book, ever printed, in every language, in under 60 seconds.") although I do think these things make it easy to attract & retain excellent talent - but a better way to say this is that it is not any of these things alone. Thanks to the power of the internet & a helpful conversation with my managing director, I found this - an excellent post & Slideshare from Bud Caddell (if you don't follow his blog drop what you're doing & subscribe) which describes the 'Responsive Operating System.'

In brief, the Responsive Operating System is:

  • Visionary vs. commercial
  • Emergent vs. controlled
  • Learning vs. sustaining
  • Open vs. closed
  • Lean vs. large

This approach, as Mr. Caddell points out touches everything in an organisation from purpose, process, people, product, platform: 

  • purpose: Warby Parker's Neil Blumenthal wanted to 'radically transform the optical industry' by transferring billions of dollars from large multi-nationals to consumers while also behaving the way they believe companies should behave - treating customers & employees well & simultaneously doing good through their 'give a pair get a pair' initiative
  • process: Google is famous for their 20% policy - one that supports employees using 20% of their time to pursue side projects. Gmail, Google Maps, & Adsense were born out of this policy.
  • people: Amazon's 2PT, or "two pizza teams" are small enough to feed with two pizzas which allows them to stay nimble enough to innovate - giving them both autonomy & accountability for their projects
  • product: Amazon, for example, began as an online bookstore book warehouse & quickly realized the potential they had to expand to other products
  • platform: Uber, for example, is transforming the transportation platform by moving taxi booking from chancing upon a cab in your city to pinpointing one on a map & putting you in direct contact with your driver as he's en route to pick you up

Here's the thing. This isn't just trendy hipsters running around with beards, fixies & glasses sitting in bean bags & playing ping pong. These are highly profitable global companies. Warby Parker hit their first year sales goals within 3 weeks. Netflix tripled its stock in 2013 & just reported that it hit 40 million subscribers - meaning that it has more paying subscribers in the U.S. than HBO. Google is #5 on Forbes 'Most Valuable Brands' list. Uber's leaked financials caused some serious tongue wagging on Valleywag including speculation that Uber could be more valuable than Facebook.

There's clearly tremendous value in the responsive operating system. And it's (so far) been executed very well by newer, nimble tech-type companies. The challenge then, as Mr. Caddell suggests, is to transfer this way of thinking to larger, older, more cumbersome companies - in order to not only improve the bottom line - but improve the connection with the consumer's heart & mind.