Book Review: Transforming Legacy Organizations – Turn Your Established Business into an Innovation Champion to Win the Future

Rapid change has become a constant for today’s businesses. To have any hope of remaining in business 20 or even 10 years from now, organizations will likely have to transform into something different than they are today. In his latest book, Transforming Legacy Organizations, Kris Oestergaard shares valuable strategies that legacy, or established, companies need to adopt in order to survive in this market maelstrom. He makes the point that innovation — not traditional product development and delivery — is the new criteria for success.

Oestergaard is co-founder of SingularityU Nordic in Copenhagen, a collaborative venture with Silicon Valley’s Singularity University — the future-focused institute for those on the front lines of exponential technology. From Oestergaard’s work and research over the past 20 years, consulting for both established businesses and startups across the globe, he has distilled the essential components for creating a culture of innovation across an entire organization to keep it viable.

Transforming Legacy Organizations includes three separate sections: how best to prepare for innovation; the mechanisms (he calls them “immune systems”) that protect organizations; and the three innovation tracks that organizations must master. Each section provides a well-explained overview, interspersed with on-the-ground examples and anecdotes from companies grappling with change.

The first section makes the case for operating in a new way — and how to overcome the frequent resistance to doing so. It’s often the case that neither organizational leaders nor staff feels inspired to set out in a direction for which the endpoint appears ambiguous. Oestergaard points to approaches that several companies have employed to influence their staff, such as using narratives that employees can identify with and find purpose within. A correlation has been found between companies who promote their higher purpose and who achieve better economic results.

Organizations such as Tesla, who incorporate “massive transformative purpose” (MTP) narratives to motivate employees, inspire their people through the opportunity to make a difference. Tesla’s MTP is: “accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” The purpose goes beyond electric cars, aspiring to loftier goals.

In the second section, Oestergaard walks readers through the considerations organizations must address in terms of individual, organizational and societal “immune systems” that can all restrict innovation and organizational change. Individuals, for example, have varying degrees of risk tolerance that must be accounted for, while organizations need to factor in new ways of measuring and rewarding employees to move them forward. Additionally, society’s immune system may encompass limitations such as legislation, economic climate and so on.

The third section describes three types of innovation organizations must implement. Optimizing innovation refers to improving on what they have, such as when Gillette adds another blade to its three-blade razor. Augmenting innovation usually relates to upgrading systems and technology to give employees the right tools. Finally, mutating innovation, the most radical and forward-looking, involves re-inventing the future.

Lowe’s, known for its chain of home improvement stores, for example, established its innovation labs to investigate mutating innovations. The labs are working on advances such as 3D printing and robotics to re-imagine how to automate its own stores, as well as lead the way for cutting-edge technology in other industries.

Transforming Legacy Organizations sets the stage for competing in the increasingly complex new world. It shares not only how established organizations can tap their resources to stay ahead, but also how to investigate broader opportunities as industries merge and technologies advance.

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