Fashion. Projects. Markets. Tries. Those four words may be all you need to know about the zany new world of commerce.
1. Fashion. Roll the word around in your mouth and, unless you're from Manhattan's Seventh Avenue, a sour taste lingers. What comes to mind: fickle, fleeting, unfair.
Yet all goods and services are becoming "fashion" goods. A few years ago, Sony chairman and hardware maven Akio Morita ripped Americans for inattention to manufacturing. In March, he certified Sony's new "software" obsession by signing Michael Jackson to a deal valued at perhaps a billion dollars. Sony is now foursquare in the fashion business!
Even old-line industries now dance to the new beat. Environmentalism is "in" -- and almost overnight the major oil companies give us designer gas with new "cleaner than clean" additives.
2. Projects. It's elementary: If all business is fashion business, then all of organizational life must become projects.
The new "organization" is a collection of ever-changing project teams, each gathering together a unique set of people (and often firms) for a finite period to perform a discrete task.
Sure, to succeed there must be solid core technologies (Disney's "underpark" and "imagineering"), but in the end, attacks on fickle markets must be made by fickle
mechanisms. Architects, ad agencies and consultants have long understood this..
3. Markets. Market forces are the only things that can keep you honest and agile enough to survive. The essence of the market economy is its unfairness. Ideas/products/services click with users for reasons far too complex to map -- Hula-Hoops, VW Beetles and Apple IIs take off, when they do, for a jillion indecipherable, irrational "reasons."
In the past, we have praised markets in speeches, but ignored them within our firms.
Once again, accepting the fashion idea demands that we bend to the power and vagaries of the market. The market is cruel to clothing designers and movie-makers who aren't agile enough to respond to its slightest vibration. Such "cruelty" now extends to autos, materials, financial services, the works.
4. Try it. I asked Wal-Mart CEO David Glass what was most special about Sam Walton, the $33-billion firm's founder. "He's not afraid to fail," Mr. Glass replied. "He'll try something. If it doesn't work, his reaction is, 'Well, that didn't work.' Then he charges into something else."
Fashion requires a "try it" approach everywhere.