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Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

Time Event
1:16p
30 Day Book Meme - Day 26
Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something

I used to believe institutions were reformable. A new administrator and focused mission would make NASA a useful contributor to getting humans into space again. Sanctions could force Baathist Iraq to back down. Companies could adapt to changes in their market.

The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger was a big part of ending that belief. The story of how the shipping industry changed from putting cargo in random piles to fitting everything into a forty-foot box is straightforward, technologically. But no institution adapted to it. The shipping companies went out of business as new ones sprang up. Old ports went out of business. Major unions shrank to a bare handful of men. The government agency regulating rail rates was quietly disbanded.

At first I thought it was a unique story of one odd change happening to cut a wide swath which made it hard for companies to adapt. But if it was just hard, then 80% or 90% of the old guard should have survived, the most nimble fraction. Instead they're all gone. Which crystallized a feeling I've gotten from watching other areas: mature institutions don't adapt. Growing organizations can change as they find their niche, but once they settle down they won't change. Sometimes one gets replaced while carrying over the name but in general they keep doing the same thing until the collapse.

So now I don't look to reform an organization that's not working well, I look for ways to by-pass it.

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