The other day, my colleague George Spafford emailed a link to me on a 2009 TED Talk by Simon Sinek on “How great leaders inspire action.” Even through the video is now several years old, the argument that Simon makes is timeless. The key graphic in his presentation is re-created below:
Sinek states that most organizations know what they do and also how they do it (i.e., perhaps through some value differentiating process, etc.). He argues, however, that few organizations know why they do what they do (beyond of course just generating a profit). From a strategy perspective, these conventional organizations operate from outside in with respect to his model which Sinek calls “The Golden Circle.”
What Sinek argues is that great, inspiring organizations and people (he cites Apple Computer, the Wright Brothers and Dr. Martin Luther King) think, act and operate the same way which is the opposite from everyone else. They start from the inside of the model or “why” because they have a purpose, a belief or a cause that is the DNA embedded in everything that they do, from the products that they build, to the marketing messages that they develop and ultimately to the people that they hire.
As I watched the video, I started to ask myself if I could think of any IT operations management companies that could be included in the list of inspiring entities that Sinek cites? The results that came back to me were pretty sparse. Many were companies that were early movers in the DevOps arena with their almost evangelical zeal for their mission to change the conventional IT operations environment. And one or two others pre-dated the DevOps rise with their own edgy approaches. I wonder, however, how many of these firms will manage to retain the quality that identifies them over a decade or more like an Apple?
I have a personal example of this. Prior to coming to Gartner, I worked at BMC Software in a variety of roles. Coming from IBM, it was quite a shock to me. With FY 1993 sales of almost $ 240 million based in of all places Houston, the company was 13 years old (and had been public for 5 of those) and yet still operated very much like a Silicon Valley start-up. Developers walked around in jeans, shorts and flip flops wearing tee-shirts that said “Best Little Software House in Texas” on them. The company had “product authors” that designed software that did amazing things in mainframes – things that even the inventor of the MVS operating system had difficulty replicating during that era. Sales was unconventional for that time as well – it was rare for an account rep to actually visit their customer as most interaction was done over the phone leveraging a “try and buy” model which was even more amazing when you consider that many software licenses regularly cost over $ 100,000.
But today we see a company that has been a perennial member of the “Big Four” in IT operations management now in the process of going private. There are many possible reasons for this but I like to think it has a lot to do with the issue surrounding Simon Sinek’s question of “why.” And to be clear, this issue is not specific to BMC, but can also found in almost all of their competitors, i.e., CA Technologies, HP, IBM, etc., as well as numerous other large and small firms in the management industry. Why do they exist and by extension, what is their dream? How they answer this will help us to better understand their future prospects.
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