Going the Way of the Organizational Dodo Bird

Frederick William Frohawk's restoration from Rothschild's 1907 book Extinct Birds

Frederick William Frohawk’s restoration from Rothschild’s 1907 book Extinct Birds

Dodo Bird. Its name is synonymous with and immediately suggestive of extinction. Dutch and Portuguese explorers discovered Dodo birds living in relative isolation on the island Mauritius in 1598. Dodos were extinct about 80 years earlier.

The Dodo bird was a flightless bird native to Mauritius, near Madagascar and 1200 miles east of Africa in the Indian Ocean. It was on average believed to stand about 3 feet tall and weighed up to 50 lbs. Dodo birds evolved in complete isolation on the island and had no significant predators. Probably everyone already knows Dodos were flightless, but they didn’t begin that way. Evidence indicates that at one time they almost certainly had flight capabilities. But absent predators Dodos overtime lost their need and ability to fly. Their wings became smaller and shorter until they were completely non-functioning. Eating lots of low-lying and easy to find food, Dodos became plump and slow. And they had no fear of man when he arrived. Dodos made for easy additions to ship provisions as historical accounts exist which tell of Dodos simply walking up to sailors who quickly grabbed and clubbed the Dodo…who’s cries for help then drew other nearby Dodos to their own demise. Creatures then introduced onto the island by man – including dogs, rats, pigs, monkeys and cats – found the Dodo’s habit of simply laying its single egg on the ground to lead to easy hunting. All resulting in the Dodos all but certain path to extinction.

Some may suggest that the Dodo’s extinction was primarily caused by man and hunting but that was merely the means to an end which finalized its extinction. The Dodo’s extinction was predestined because of one primary factor: No perceived need to change. Because there were no predators on the island, there was no need for the Dodo to retain escape abilities provided through flight. No predators also meant no need to hide nests. And readily available “low hanging food” meant no need to develop comprehensive foraging skills.

Which got me to thinking about lessons learned from understanding the Dodo’s demise. What does it take for an organization to become a modern day “Dodo”?

And in response I suggest that there is no single factor that will drive an organization into extinction but rather a combination of factors that would include lack of a strategic perspective and failure to develop and maintain competitive advantage gained through focus upon and utilization of its organizational knowledge.

Which brings me around to Knowledge Management. Innovation and competitive advantage sustain and grow organizations. The only thing that makes any organization truly unique is its organizational knowledge (as anything else can be copied or obtained). Failure to take advantage of that organizational uniqueness may well doom an organization to extinction. Lack of effective organizational strategy precludes recognizing the competitive advantage presented by unique organizational knowledge.

Like the Dodo leaving its eggs laying open and unprotected on the ground, the “organizational Dodo bird” fails to recognize or understand its organizational knowledge potential. Not utilizing its organizational knowledge, not having a big picture strategy for where it needs to go, chasing trends instead of creating them, believing that improvements negate the need for innovations, and fixating upon short-term issues — all can easily lead to organizational extinction.

6 Key Considerations to Avoid Going the Way of the Organizational Dodo Bird:

  1. Understand its Knowledge Stock (know what) and refresh its Knowledge Flow (know how). Knowledge Stock (capturing explicit knowledge) has value but as John Seely Brown has said, “knowledge stocks depreciate at an accelerating rate unless they are rapidly refreshed by knowledge flows” where Knowledge Flow involves transfer of tacit knowledge without necessarily trying to convert it to Knowledge Stock. The focus of Knowledge Flow is all about how to use the knowledge, rather than where it’s documented as is the case with Knowledge Stock.
  2. Recognize which organizational knowledge is value-adding, or has the potential to become value-adding, and identify ways to ensure that this knowledge can and should be shared. Knowledge Flow is about creating new ideas and then making connections between those new ideas that create additional value.
  3. Develop that shared organizational purpose. Shared purpose encourages organizational passions and individual commitments which move the organization from individual problem solving to collaboration.
  4. Recognize the need to change and then articulate that need within the organizational strategy and ensure that it is supported by a well-crafted organizational Knowledge Management strategy.
  5. Focus on great ideas that are found within Knowledge Flow. Organizations don’t need more ideas to become innovative — they need better ideas.
  6. Don’t get mired down by an organizational focus upon low hanging fruit that may actually do more harm than good as it’s important to mention that low hanging fruit is not typically a source for either competitive advantage or for innovations. In organizations lacking a clear vision investment in organizational knowledge and knowledge management is hindered by cost constraints which then do become a mantra for those who have no vision and commit no resources towards developing real competitive advantage (“We like what you’ve been doing at no cost, so just keep doing more of that and we’re happy!”).
Dr. Dan's Daily Dose:
Think like and act like an Organizational Dodo bird and you’ll find your organization on the path to organizational extinction.
About Dr. Dan Kirsch