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Forget Built-to-Last

The seminal work of Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras had us looking at companies differently.

The big idea was that there are truly exceptional companies that are different from their competitors.

It was this idea that these companies are enduringly great companies.

That these companies are built to last.

More recently, a new question has arisen. And that question is, “is built to last an ideology that is relevant in today’s context?”

The Honduran Bridge

The story is about this bridge in Honduras.

The region is known for its destructive hurricanes.

A new bridge was planned for and subsequently built by a Japanese company, which was aptly named, the “Bridge of Rising Sun“.

However,

In the same year that the bridge was commissioned for use, Honduras was hit by Hurricane Mitch, which caused considerable damage to the nation and its infrastructure. Many bridges, including the old bridge, were damaged while some were destroyed, but the new Choluteca Bridge survived with minor damage.

Wikipedia

This is where the story gets interesting.

While the bridge itself was in near perfect condition, the roads on either end of the bridge had completely vanished, leaving no visible trace of their prior existence. At this time, the Choluteca River, which is over 100 metres (300 ft) at the bridge, had carved itself a new channel during the massive flooding caused by the hurricane. It no longer flowed beneath the bridge, which now spanned dry ground. The bridge quickly became known as “The Bridge to Nowhere”.

Wikipedia

Intelligent opportunism

Remarkably, the Honduran Bridge is now used as a metaphor for disruption.

While looking to construct a bridge that is built to last, the engineers of Hazama Ando Corporation, the company that built the bridge, basic assumption was one that the Choluteca River would stay the course.

Just like when almost everyone expected hotels to be the default accommodations for travelers, taxis to be the default mode of personalized transport, BlackBerry to be the default communication tool for professionals.

You see the emergence of AirBnB, Uber, and the iPhone.

This points to the concept of intelligent opportunism was identified as a one of five elements of strategic thinking by Jeanne Liedtka.

Here is a working definition of ‘intelligent opportunism’:

an approach that enables entrepreneurs to develop emergent strategies and take advantage of new opportunities.

This is a crucial element that as entrepreneurs, especially a one-person business, while you focus on the implementation of your intended strategies, ‘you must also leave open the possibility of new strategies emerging.’

So forget built to last.

Instead, leaning into the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’, perhaps we should focus on build to adapt.