Agility Lessons from the Fringe

Published in Knowledge@Emory


As business leaders struggle to manage people and resources in an increasingly complex and volatile environment, they should take their cue from “guerilla entrepreneurs” and insurgents rather than the lumbering corporate old guard, says Vivek Wadhwa, Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Emory University’s Halle Institute.

“If businesses don’t figure it out rapidly, each big company will go the way of AltaVista or Microsoft—once shining stars,” he explains.

Wadhwa, a columnist for Bloomberg Businessweek, delivered a provocative keynote address at the recent Knowledge Futures: The Agility Imperativesymposium held at Goizueta Business School. The two-day conference, organized by Goizueta faculty and the Halle Institute, assembled thought leaders and senior decision makers from government, private, and academic sectors to discuss emerging efforts to create knowledge networks and promote a rapid, disciplined response in an unpredictable world.

“We’re in the midst of the biggest revolution is human history right now,” says Wadhwa. “This is the age of innovation.”

The social media explosion over the last decade, fueled by tech entrepreneurs, has spurred IBM and others to innovate or risk becoming irrelevant.

“The model of agility is start-ups,” Wadhwa says. “Big business is always top-down. It’s a dictatorship.”

To illustrate his point, Wadhwa noted that highly orchestrated, expensive military campaigns have faltered in response to nimble insurgents.

“Fugitives are innovating. The army is not,” he says.

Meanwhile, a spirit of entrepreneurship is thriving in India and China. In India, for instance, workers perform sophisticated research and development (R&D) and receive cross-training in multiple disciplines.

America’s last push for building intellectual capital came just before World War II, Wadhwa asserts. Today, workers must reinvent themselves as many as 10 times over the course of their lives to remain competitive, he says, yet workforce development takes a back seat to a company’s bottom line.

In a climate punctuated by unstable markets and currencies, political and social clashes, and “entire industries being decimated overnight,” companies must cultivate collective intelligence through knowledge sharing, Wadhwa asserts.


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