Has your CEO lost touch with your industry?

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

As a recent evictee from the big corporate world, who spends some of his time working for big corporates, I’m still fascinated by the problems these huge companies face in adapting to times of massive change.

I noted this post by Seth Godin a few weeks back:

This is a sure sign of systemic failure as well as a CEO who is not doing the job she should be. When smart people who care get frustrated, something is wrong.

I recognised that feeling – that of caring about the company, and of seeing solutions which I just couldn’t get implemented, because the people around me weren’t in touch enough with what was happening outside their tight niche to see that the threats and opportunities were coming from elsewhere.

And then I saw this yesterday:

AirPlay, a software tool included with Apple’s iPads and iPhones, is widely viewed as being potentially disruptive to the cable industry, because it makes it easy for people to view a broad variety of Internet content on a television. Time Warner Cable’s leader, however, hasn’t heard of it.

And that’s the core problem, isn’t it? A CEO who has worked his or her way up the company, in a different age, with a different set of challenges. They’re not in-touch enough to know what the new landscape is. And they’re not smart enough to listen to those people further down the company who are much more keenly aware of the true competitive landscape. So, it’s both a systemic and a personal problem, as Godin suggests.

Try this thought experiment: imagine walking up to your CEO, if you work for a publishing business, and asking him to name his top five sites that didn’t come from a traditional media background. If you can’t imagine him giving sensible answers, start looking for another job.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.