Rewriting the script


April 9, 2019

There’s no shortage of business intelligence disseminated on the internet these days. And for better or for worse, LinkedIn has become the de facto destination where a lot of this content is aggregated, reposted and shared.

One recent Forbes article shared by a connection, titled “The Most Dangerous Phrase In Business: We’ve Always Done It This Way,” caught my eye.

In it, author Ben Zimmerman tells the ill-fated story of Blockbuster’s inability to see the potential in a upstart video subscription service, which ultimately led to the company’s demise when it turned down an offer to purchase Netflix for $50 million in 2000.

Thanks largely to the company’s decision to double down on its brick-and-mortar model rather than move with the winds of change, Blockbuster was forced to file for bankruptcy in 2010.

The lesson is that no organization—even those with virtual monopolies, like Blockbuster—is too big to fail if its operators are unwilling to adapt.

“When’s the last time you heard someone say, ‘We’ve always done it this way’?” Zimmerman writes. “It was probably said with good intention, because it’s generally synonymous with, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ … This is not to say that you shouldn’t learn from past success (and failure). However, resting on your laurels is often subterfuge—a last-ditch effort to remain relevant. Simply relying on past achievements can lead to stagnation. However, when companies embrace a culture of change, they maximize their potential.”

In this issue’s cover story, WCA Waste Corp. CEO Bill Caesar explains how his company’s smaller, more nimble structure allows the Houston-based waste management company to better shift its strategies in the face of industry challenges.

“WCA is of a unique size and structure in the waste industry. We have all the professionalism and assets of one of the publicly traded waste companies, but we are much smaller and our organization is much flatter. There are only four people between me and a driver, compared to seven or eight at one of the bigger companies. We can make decisions quickly and can swiftly implement those decisions,” Caesar says.

Whether it’s changing how the company hires and onboards employees to meet staffing requirements, pushing back on the traditional recycling model in the face of today’s economic realities, or pursuing acquisitions that might give the larger public haulers pause due to the short-term fallout, WCA hasn’t been afraid to shake things up to lay the groundwork for its future success.

Change is never without risk. But as history shows, sometimes the biggest risk is the one you don’t take.