Luke Halliwell, formerly a technical lead at the pretty-much defunct Realtime Worlds, has a multipart post-mortem up on how the company went wrong, blew through $100 million bucks in funding and went out of business just ten weeks after launching its flagship MMOG.

It’s a haunting account, because so much of it is familiar in businesses that I’ve worked at, and businesses that I’ve dealt with.

One of the key lessons that recurs over and over from failed companies is that you can’t just turn one company into a clone of another. It just doesn’t work.

Sure, you might be coming from another company that had particular and successful methods, and you’d like to replicate that success. The best way to screw that up is to try and impose the same operational methods in a (as many MBAs would say) ‘holus bolus’ fashion. For starters, that sort of thing doesn’t make you a manager, it makes you an empty suit.

Corporations and corporate culture are like plants. You can guide them, prune them, and train them with all that you have learned, and they will grow into a unique configuration of their own. Forcing one to try to be the spitting image of another just cripples it. Your people are different, your starting assumptions are different, your customers are different, and even your office layouts and installed systems are different.

Like a stick of Edinburgh Castle Rock, you can apply slow pressure and it will bend. Too much and it will shatter.

Yes, a skilled manager brings in ideas and practices from where they’ve worked before. That’s called experience, and it is important.

A skilled manager will also select which of those things to discard, which to try and provide encouragement and leadership in helping the corporation grow towards its own unique variations based on the things she’s brought to the table.

That’s called management. It’s also teamwork.

Maybe they don’t teach MBAs this sort of thing, or maybe its a lesson that’s easily forgotten. Empty suits abound, though, trying to force businesses into models, moulds and methodologies that simply don’t fit.

Halliwell’s account is littered with common corporate missteps. Do any of them seem familiar to you?



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