Most of us - at least those who, like me, have passed the midpoint of our lives - have accepted that we aren't going to live for ever. Companies, on the other hand, seem to find this very hard.

by Alastair Dryburgh
Last Updated: 11 Dec 2013

Look, for instance, at the continuing travails of Yahoo. The other internet giants have a clear purpose: Amazon - shopping; Paypal - moving money; eBay - global fleamarket; Google - search. Yahoo doesn't.

This isn't new - there is the famous 'peanut butter manifesto' of 2006 in which a then senior VP said: 'We lack a focused, cohesive vision for our company. We want to do everything and be everything - to everyone. We've known this for years, talk about it incessantly, but do nothing to fundamentally address it... spreading peanut butter across the myriad opportunities that continue to evolve in the online world. The result: a thin layer of investment spread across everything we do and thus we focus on nothing in particular.'

In seven years, what's changed? Newly appointed CEO Marissa Meyer's only major new initiative - the abolition of home working - does little to address that fundamental lack of purpose. Perhaps it's time to accept that Yahoo has simply had its day and move on?

It's odd that such intimations of corporate mortality seem harder to deal with than the personal ones. If Yahoo did break up it would release a crowd of talented people who could do great things elsewhere, work at home as much as they wanted, and probably also have more fun.

And therein lies the clue. Think about people, not organisations. I, and probably you too, have had several careers. Some of them stopped working. Others, I got bored with. I left them or they left me, but I carried on.

Organisations are temporary coalitions of people brought together for a purpose, for a period. As human lifespans lengthen and corporate lifespans shorten, let's assert the fact that it's the people, not the corporations, that really matter.

- Alastair Dryburgh is a consultant and speaker specialising in problems that cannot be solved by normal means. More at alastairdryburgh.com

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