The Strong Force and Weak Force of Companies

There are four fundamental interactions in physics; gravity, electromagnetism, the strong force, and the weak force. Particles are affected by all four of these – hence why they are fundamental to understanding physics. The strong force holds the nucleus of an atom together. The weak force tries to tear the nucleus of an atom apart, creating radioactivity.

The strong force is a million times stronger than the weak force at small distances, up to 10 angstroms. However, as you add more protons and neutrons to the nucleus of an atom, the atom gets bigger - and the weak force becomes stronger and stronger, until eventually the nucleus of an atom is too big to be kept together by the strong force, and the weak force tears the atom apart, resulting in a radioactive atom. Companies follow the same trajectory.

Companies are a lot like atoms; at first, growth is key – you want to extend your revenue by having people buy the service you offer them. How do you build a better service? By hiring. So you hire people to improve your service. At first, this works excellently. Your first few hires have great impact at the company, and they lay the foundation for hires in the future. Of course, it’s not all roses – they make some mistakes, and put in guardrails to make sure future employees don’t make the same mistakes. But at this point of the curve, it is worth way more to you as a company to continue hiring, since each hire gives you more value than you pay them. But as time passes and you hire more people, each hire has less impact. They’re encumbered by the communication cost of talking to multitudes of stakeholders, and the cost of checking all of the guardrails their predecessors laid down for them. Eventually work slides to a snail’s pace, and it shows – the product doesn’t improve very much, if at all – features that might take a few days take months at a time now, and your revenue doesn’t increase as much as it used to. You’ve hit your first slope. Your competitive advantage, your strong force is fading. Everyone else is coming for you. The weak force is strengthening.

You have a few ways of delaying the inevitable – maybe you find a novel way to manage resources so you become better than the competition. Maybe you realize that some of the rules you’ve enshrined don’t do much for you, so you cut excess baggage. Maybe you can’t do the above, and you cut excess resources in the form of employees. You’ve managed to keep the competition at bay, but your strong force weakens as you do this. If you manage resources to become better than the competition, what stops the competition from copying you? If you cut excess baggage, you run the risk of cutting out rules that were well-intentioned and protected you from damage. You run the risk of plunging your company into a dark age, where the employees have to rediscover the practices that were purged from the annals of history to resume work. If you cut employees, you risk the loss of morale that keeps your company churning. If the company is willing to axe some people, what stops it from axing the rest of them? Each time you do this, you come closer to your doom by the hands of the weak force.

A company that keeps delaying the inevitable soon falls to its own forces. It blows up, metaphorically. People stop wanting to work at the firm because there’s too much bureaucracy. The product stop dominating the market, and revenues fall. The consumers drop you for your competition. Your company blows up, becoming a waste zone.

Business is all about keeping the weak force away. As we’ve made progress in business, we’ve learned how to do this better. Companies find ways to make more revenue with fewer people, and do more with less. But this too shall pass – the companies of yesteryear will soon be left in the dust. And so on and so forth. I wonder what the future of organization has in store for the rest of us?