Growing the 1,000 year company

I’m reading an addictive, all-consuming sci fi book about an institution that has lasted for thousands of years, set in (I think) the future.

And this morning, coming in to work after a wet bike ride in, I was wondering what it would take for NixonMcInnes, the company I helped found, to last for a 1,000 years. [Caveat: It’s a thought experiment, as most of the time our focus is on the weeks and months ahead of us! But you get the idea.]

I spend my working life sharing ideas about the how the world is changing at this very moment, and one of the constant strands in this for the last 5 years has been a shift towards the realtime-ness of life. People answering emails the second they arrive, mobile phones following us around, tweets and videos documenting disasters and delights in the seconds and minutes after things happen.

It feels like the short-term is getting shorter still.

And banks are failing, businesses go bust, swathes of the public sector get cut and pretty soon it feels like everything is in motion – nothing lasts.

These trends get me wondering what would it take for any organisation to last a 1,000 years.

 

What would be necessary to sustain that? And what are role models or benchmarks – how have other organisations lasted so long?

I thought of the Church. And the other religions.

Are their any organisations that have lasted more than 1,000 years that are non-religious? Cities I guess, city-states? Are there any organisations that are not fixed by geography only and are non-religious that have lasted more than 1,000 years?

I suppose it might come back to what do we define as an organisation.

Were the Mayans or the Romans an organisation?! Not by this defintion – I don’t mean a people, or a culture. But I’ve probably underestimated lots of nuance and FACTS here 🙂 But in this line of thinking I’m looking for smaller parts of a whole – components, cells, autonomous thingymajigs inside a bigger people, society, culture, epoch. Things that lasted.

The Knights Hospitaller maybe? That’s more like it, in that it’s recognised as distinct.

Any others?

Are their any commercial organisations that have lasted more than a 1,000 years?

Most importantly, how did they last?

2 comments

  1. Conscious Business

    http://conscious-business.co.uk/2008/06/18/oldest-companies-in-the-world/

    I think the most likely contenders are organisations like the Quakers. Or maybe Alcholics Anonymous. Or the Jesuits?

    These kinds of organisations have built-in to them practices which are sustainable (such as distributed leadership, dialogue etc) and therefore likely to adapt as the world around them evolves.

    Personally I think it would be great if business or commercial organisations would evolve in similar sustainable directions. They could serve people’s needs and do so using a business model.

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