All organizations begin life as Lizards and only start evolving into Bullfrogs if they succeed. I base this premise on my observation that while there are a lot of Bullfrogs, I cannot think of any organization that started life that way.*
There are three reasons that organizations naturally begin life as Lizards:
- Size. Organizations are generally small at birth. Unlike the bulky Bullfrog that can use its size to overwhelm its prey and protect itself from predators, the brand-new tiny Lizard has to use guile and speed to eat and survive. Thus, a new organization is a Lizard because it is simply too small to be a Bullfrog.
- Leadership. At birth, organizations are usually unified under a single leader. It is his vision that brings an organization into being and provides its initial guidance. Lizards are led, not managed.
- Purpose. Organizations are hard to start from scratch. They require resources. Thus, they just don’t burst into being for no reason. The leader sees a need that is either not being filled (at least not well) and cannot be filled by him acting alone, so he joins forces with others and the organization is born. Lizards have a purpose outside of their continued survival.
Thus, the newborn organization is small, led and purposeful. It is a happy Lizard. Because it is small, it has to use its limited resources well just to survive. If the leader’s vision is clear and the purpose good, it might do more than just survive. It might succeed. And that is when it unconsciously starts evolving into a Bullfrog.
There are three reasons that success causes organizations to evolve into Bullfrogs:
- Success increases resources. Less limited, the Lizard has less pressure to use its resources carefully to survive. It can afford a little growth, even if some of that growth does not make it more capable. But (of course) the more it grows, the more resources it needs to feed itself. If this trend is not arrested, the organization will eventually do nothing but feed itself.
- Success increases complexity, exponentially. The pure clean vision of the leader soon becomes encrusted with the barnacles of progress. Most organizations respond to this challenge by replacing leadership with management. At best, this rearranges the barnacles. At worst (and in most cases) it ends up increasing the pace of the barnaclization until, ultimately, the drag produced overcomes the organization’s thrust and all forward motion ceases.
- Success creates opportunity. An organization that gets results pursuing its purpose will attract needs that are outside of its purpose. The natural temptation for a Lizard organization is to be flattered by extra-purpose opportunities and try to meet them. However, because it wasn’t built for these opportunities it will need both growth and management to meet them (see points one and two above). This trend, if unabated, will ultimately lead to the organization’s purpose being swallowed by its opportunities. At that point, the organization’s true purpose (if it were honest with itself) would be solely its continued existence.
An organization that does nothing but feed itself, does not move and has no purpose beyond its continued existence is a Bullfrog. Evolution complete.