Protean Companies

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September 20, 2014 by karamcaulay

Successful companies now and in the future: They will be nimble but substantial, adaptive but established, long-lived but perpetually young. Most of all, these organizations will be able to adapt and change themselves at lightning speed – they will be shape-shifters, “Protean Companies”— yet they retain at their core something enduring and unchanging. ~ Michael S. Malone

Yes this success is a kind of contradiction, but necessary to survive the deluge of constant change, according to Michael S. Malone in his book The Future Arrived Yesterday: The Rise of the Protean Corporation and What It Means for You.

Protean comes from the word Proteus: god of “elusive sea change.” The adjective protean, with the general meaning of “versatile”, “mutable”, “and capable of assuming many forms” has positive connotations of flexibility, versatility and adaptability  ~ Wikipedia

Malone’s book illustrates four trends affecting success now and in the future: Technological, Organizational, Historical and Generational


  • Moore’s Law: the complexity and power of the computer chip will double every 18-24 months.
  • Memory technology will place as much as 100 terabytes of storage on a single handheld computer disk.
  • Equivalent technological leaps will occur in wireless, nanotechnology, micromachines, displays, software and interfaces.
  • As the decade (2010) progresses, the experience of using a digital device will become transparent, ubiquitous, and increasingly indistinguishable from real life.
  • Because it will be multimedia, rich in content and supported by vast data resources, in some applications (such as product design) digital interaction may, for the first time, be better than face-to-face contact, at least in the sense that what is lost in physical immediacy will be more than offset by the flood of supporting data.


  • Companies will change their structures: decentralization, de-massification and destruction of hierarchies. Increased telecommuting, global work-teams and real-time enterprise networking.
  • Accelerated reorganization will occur in months, even weeks, i.e. product division to market sector groups to integrated operations. They will be more likely to focus on capabilities over products.
  • The company that employs you for the next twenty years may radically change a dozen times, and you will have to find your place in each of those reincarnations.


  • Business models usually change after wars or economic downturns, at the arrival of a new generation, or after profound technological change.
  • From the Industrial Revolution (c. 1760-1830) forward, the trend in business organization has been toward increasing independence of employees, ever greater flexibility of operations, and more pervasive implementation of technology.


  • Rise of a new generation, an event that is often the catalyst for radical change. The emerging Gen-Ys are distinctively different from the generations that came before.
  • Extremely entrepreneurial generation. Many with parents who have always worked at home, has little interest in ever taking an office job, or working for a business that doesn’t change, they will expect their jobs to change as rapidly as the rest of their lives.
  • Millions of Gen-Ys who, thanks to their freelancing parents, have little experience or comprehension of corporate or bureaucratic life.
  • Also the Gen-Xers anxiously awaiting the chance to bail out of their last-resort corporate jobs.

This is an excerpt from Michael S. Malone’s book and are his words and his predictions. He also wrote in 1992 a book called the Virtual Corporation in which he predicted the rise of a new corporate structure – the virtual corporation: an adaptive organization, driven by technology and global in reach. It was written in anticipation of, but before the arrival of, the Internet Age.

So, as you can see, in a world that will not stand still it is necessary to continuously learn, adapt and change!

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