Kris Oestergaard’s Transforming Legacy Organizations is a short book brimming over with information. It has an ambitious aim. Oestergaard studies how long-standing companies with deep histories are able to compete with modern start ups if they are willing to embrace innovation, encourage a culture valuing its principles, and commit themselves towards overcoming whatever perils may obstruct their vision for future development. His examination is well rounded. There are no extended sidebars or useless personal reflections. He maintains a conversational tone throughout that makes the book’s ideas accessible for a broad-based readership. Transforming Legacy Organizations is a brisk and informative read.
I found his construction of the book to be one of its strongest components. Oestergaard builds Transforming Legacy Organizations in a coherent fashion by laying out a thesis of sorts and roadmap for readers during the book’s introduction whilst also serving us notice of the general template for what follows. Oestergaard does not fill the book with one pronouncement after another lacking substance to back his assertions but, instead, buttresses his claims and ideas with solid research that never overwhelms the reader. Transforming Legacy Organizations is not a scholarly work, but it is informed by a thorough reading of what has been written about innovation in established companies and advancements made over the last decade. It is current and forward looking throughout the entirety of the book.
The first section of the book concerns itself with what legacy organizations must do to prime themselves for innovation. Oestergaard stresses the need for awareness – even long standing successful companies can benefit from examining what other, perhaps younger and smaller, companies are doing in this realm. Self-awareness is key as well. A clearly delineated purpose is essential for success and defining goals leads to a greater chance for realization. He faces the specter of bias – personal and institutional – and how our predispositions towards new ideas can often subvert our forward progress. Once again, he backs his ideas in this area up with detailed existing examples – his writing on Amazon’s evolution illustrates his ideas in clear fashion.
The second half of the book looks at what Oestergaard deems the “immune” systems in a company’s workforce, overall structure, and societal that can undercut an organization’s efforts pursuing innovation. He acknowledges human nature’s natural wont to embrace stability and the status quo over pursuing innovation and change, better the devil you know than the one you don’t, but Oestergaard sees this as a potential fatal flaw in an organization’s approach. If legacy organizations desire continued growth and relevancy, it is essential they avoid such stumbling blocks. He lays out a clear path for doing so after looking at how these immune systems manifest themselves in a company’s structure.
The final portion of the book begins by revisiting an example Oestergaard writes about near the book’s beginning – the “extra razor” and how it relates to optimizing innovation. Gillette added new razor blades to their shaving products in the belief it provided more comprehensive results for customers who shave, but Dollar Shave Club entered the commercial picture, simplified the product by reducing the number of blades to a minimum and sold their product at low cost to the consumer. Proctor & Gamble responded with their own club, but the belated response came only after they realized they were facing a huge new competitor.
He delves into how companies can augment innovation by exploring digital and emerging AI platforms\ vehicles citing General Electric’s efforts as a prime example illustrative of his point. Organizational culture hacks are also discussed as a critical tool in facilitating augmentation of a company’s innovative ambitions. The third tier in Oestergaard’s discussion of implementing an ongoing vision for innovation is how this aspect of a company’s purpose can benefit from mutation – more specifically, how bold ideas about new company structure and technologies can open up thrilling new avenues of potential. His discussion of the subject is, once again, laden with many well chosen examples illuminating his point. Kris Oestergaard’s Transforming Legacy Organizations has something for everyone interested in the subject and those in business leadership positions will find it rewarding to return to this book again and again.