For the Birds

Peter Drucker liked to call himself a “social ecologist,” so perhaps he’d have been intrigued by the research now being conducted into a flock of angry birds.

Actually, what IT analyst Daniel Rasmus has been exploring is how lessons from the hugely popular video game Angry Birds can be applied to organizations.

Writing this week for CIO, Rasmus came up with a list of 10 things that executives can learn from Angry Birds, including the need to recognize unique staff talents, develop varying tools for responding to diverse challenges and understand the value of innovation.

But we were taken, in particular, by Rasmus’s first lesson: “You have to play to figure out the rules.”

“The only way one learns how to defeat a level in Angry Birds is to play,” he writes. “The same is true of technology. CIOs need to keep in mind that if they don’t engage with emerging technology and allow people to use it in the context of actual work, no one will learn its limitations, its risks or the opportunities it presents.”

This notion stood out to us because here at the Drucker Institute one of our driving principles is to stimulate companies, nonprofits and government agencies to get beyond ideas and good intentions, and move on to action. As Drucker wrote in his 1973 book Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices: “Unless objectives are converted into action, they are not objectives; they are dreams.”

Rosabeth Moss Kanter echoed the concept in her Harvard Business Review blog post this week, where she listed compelling reasons why action always trumps inertia. “Companies heading downhill have passive cultures,” she says. “Unmade decisions pile up. Opportunities are lost. No one wants to risk making a mistake. It becomes easier to sit out than get into the game.”

Kanter’s ideas are rooted in her study of businesses and sports teams. These principles, she concludes, “reflect a can-do philosophy that is essential for any entrepreneur. . .  . The only way to activate potential is to support action.”

The trouble is, Drucker explained in The Effective Executive, “many policy statements, especially of business . . . contain no action commitment.”

What about the organizations you see: Which are good at moving beyond the drawing board, and which seem to routinely get paralyzed? What accounts for this difference?