Thursday , 23 May 2024

"The Future Arrived Yesterday: The Rise of the Protean Corporation and What It Means for You" – A Book by Arthur Malone

The global economy has entered a new era, a mercurial corporate form that Malone calls the Protean Corporation, that will become the dominant species by the middle of the next decade. Words: 661

In further edited excerpts from the original review* Spencer E. Ante ( goes on to say:

“These Protean Corporations,” he writes, “will behave like perpetual entrepreneurial startups, continuously changing their form, direction, even their identity. They will be true corporate shape-shifters.”

This notion may not come as a shock, but the huge repercussions Malone envisions just might. The big challenge will be finding a way to protect the core DNA of a company as it reinvents itself over a time frame of months rather than once a generation or decade. Workers will need to be more adaptable than ever. “The company that employs you for the next 20 years may radically change a dozen times, and you will have to find your place in each of those reincarnations,” writes Malone.

The price of ignoring this warning is steep. Corporations that fail to figure out how to couple permanence with perpetual change will be “swept away,” he says. Although it’s a grandiose theory, Malone presents a strong and timely case that business is entering a phase of creative destruction where nothing can be taken for granted and change is the only constant. In part, the cause of all this disruption is the runaway nature of the changes he and co-author Bill Davidow predicted in The Virtual Corporation. “Ever-greater virtualization” is eating away at organizational structures and replacing them with “networks of free agents.” Another factor is generational: Malone says the more entrepreneurial mindset of today’s twentysomethings will serve as a “catalyst for radical change.” With the implosions on Wall Street and in Detroit, Malone’s message is likely to resonate with an uncertain and edgy public.

At times, especially in the back half of the book, Malone veers off track when he switches from prognosticator to management consultant. In several highly detailed chapters, he explains how Protean Corporations will have to adopt radically new ways of structuring themselves. And some of his prescriptions seem downright fantastical. Take his idea of Core Employees. To protect a company’s core values, Malone proposes the creation of a coterie of workers, a sort of tribal council, whose members answer to the board of directors, not the chief executive, and have job security for life (unless they really mess up). And though he acknowledges the risk that the Core could become counterrevolutionaries “who secretly run the company to their own ends,” he naively clings to the notion that CEOs would willingly relinquish so much power.

That’s not to say the book runs out of gas. In one of the later chapters, Malone introduces another class of power player in the Protean Corporation: the Competence Aggregators. These are the entrepreneurs inside a company who create products and services. Since perpetual innovation is key to survival, Malone says these “intrapreneurs” must be supported and given freedom, funding, technical resources, and a stake, much like a startup with venture capital.

“Companies of the future must not only support fully the creation of new entrepreneurial enterprises within their corporate operations and do whatever it takes to make the company’s work environment conducive to startups, but even take the next step of basing their corporate strategy on the presence of these internal startups.” It’s an idea so audacious that—in a sped-up, hypercompetitive future—it just might work.


Editor’s Note:
– The above article consists of reformatted edited excerpts from the original for the sake of brevity, clarity and to ensure a fast and easy read. The author’s views and conclusions are unaltered.
Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.
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