Archive for March 2014

Beware, there is another Chasm…

March 15, 2014

In recognition of the Ides of March, and in honor of Geoffrey Moore’s re-released and newly-revised Crossing the Chasm, I’m driven to the soothsayer’s role, for there is another Chasm to be crossed.

Beware, the (Other) Chasm, for it is hidden from the innovator’s view.

The other Chasm is deeper and more ominous than the first (the one that devours unsuspecting start-ups), and more dangerous, too, for it consumes unsuspecting institutions of any size, and its canyon floor is cluttered with the wreckage of the once-profitable, the blindly passionate, and the silicon proud:  it is more dangerous because it is taboo.  It has many names yet none, and it can suddenly appear beneath one’s feet on the very edge of success.  Indeed, many have prevailed in the crossing of Mr. Moore’s Chasm, only to teeter and fall into this second, the Other – the one they never saw coming.  Early symptoms are easily dismissed – an unhappy customer here, a missed deadline there – rationalized as the unfortunate side-effects of a necessary velocity.



Too many ignore the stop sign at the intersection of Velocity Way and Velocity Way (which is an actual location), falling into the second Chasm.  As we descend, accelerating in proportion to the gravity of our business, more symptoms appear:

  • Communication becomes increasingly difficult.
  • Team conflicts go unresolved.
  • Organizational architectures buckle under the weight of too many mergers & acquisitions, or the heightened expectations of second-wave executives.
  • Things go awry in the field, and revenue targets are missed.
  • Management consultants are hired to identify root causes.
  • Company culture begins to unravel, until it is reduced to mere motto.
  • Finally, the “best and brightest” begin to quietly look for their next professional opportunities.

I once surveyed an audience of 100+ CIOs on the primary reasons for failed initiatives and their resounding answer: 95% of project failures were caused by “people problems,” not by insurmountable technical or business issues. As one colleague remarked at the time, “Technology problems are easy – just a matter of time or money. People issues? We don’t have a clue.”  And yet, we strive for the latest technologies, and delegate organizational development responsibilities to HR.  We’re much more comfortable rebooting servers, configuring databases, and searching for memory leaks than confronting our dysfunctional teams, our feuding layers of middle management, and our fraying organizational culture.

“The level of contempt in meetings is startling,” another colleague recently confided, “it’s the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about…”  His situation is emblematic of a disturbing trend in our industry, the widening tension between the hubris in Silicon Valley and the Occupy-style resentment it engenders.  It is the tension between those who invest millions of dollars in a quest for disruptive inventions and those for whom disruption is a bad thing, something to be avoided whenever possible.

Some of you may argue that there has always been a gap.  Visionaries pull society forward.  Economics (have’s and have not’s) become political and polarized.  Why, you might ask, is this particular Ides of March different than 2004 or 1994?

Geoff Moore’s revised work offers an answer.

In the new Chasm commentaries, Geoffrey notes something very different about the current business environment:  barriers to adoption have been lessened, and it is now much simpler (and far less expensive) for a small group of engineers to have an immediate impact – no longer constrained by the cost of infrastructure (now we can rent what we need), coupled with the ubiquity of social media that allows for blazingly fast adoption by an engaged audience.  In this new world, the Chasm of his original book “…is much shallower than it used to be.”  A shallower chasm and wider availability of bridges toward adoption, in turn, has a concurrent and dramatic impact on the Enterprise, and we are now in the middle of a period of transformation (think: Enterprise 2.0) that is challenging us to re-define the borders of an institution to include the broader and more diverse world of social technologies.

There’s the rub, like the physics of displaced liquids: as one Chasm shallows, the other Chasm deepens.

Organizational mechanics has always suffered from friction, turbulence, and inattention.  Readers of this occasional blog well know that I’ve been singing this song since “The System is a Mirror” was first published in 2007.   The reason for my renewed concern is the phenomenon of shallowing-deepening, and a worrisome side-effect – teams are now moving at such velocity that they do not have Time to learn the more mundane basics of management.  Exacerbated by the equally-dangerous fad to “fail fast and often,” even less attention is being paid to core management and team skills.

In order to benefit (rather than suffer from) the transformation currently underway, greater attention must be paid to the basics, to the core skills such as problem-solving, decision-making, and effective communication (which includes listening).  To reach the potential of Enterprise 2.0, we need Governance 2.0.

Without it, beware of the other Chasm.  It’s a long fall, and a hard landing.

As my friend, Geoffrey, so generously concludes his various blogs: That’s what I think.  What do you think?