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Serial Innovators: Firms That Change the World

ISBN: 978-1-118-14992-8
202 pages
November 2011
Serial Innovators: Firms That Change the World (1118149920) cover image


"The average life expectancy at "birth" of a firm is roughly 15 years, and only one out of twenty lives longer than fifty years.

Firms are born, they grow, then they struggle to keep up with changing markets. Slow adapters often become big losers, fall by the wayside, and die. Serial Innovators studies the factors affecting the aging of firms, particularly those that slow down their ability to adapt to changes in the marketplace. The book reviews recent findings in relevant academic fields—behavioral economics, psychology, neuroscience, organizational science, network theory, anthropology, sociology, and strategy—to understand how firms, as they grow, develop rigidities that prevent change.

It develops a model of organization that is adaptive, innovative, and can create significant value for its stakeholders for long periods of time".

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Table of Contents

Foreword ix

Prologue xi

Introduction xiii


CHAPTER 1 Meet Carl Berger 3

CHAPTER 2 Corporate Life Cycle 11


CHAPTER 3 To Err Is Human 25

CHAPTER 4 The Greatest of All Time 39

CHAPTER 5 Rewiring Brains 55


CHAPTER 6 Long Live Bureaucracy! 75

CHAPTER 7 In Brain We Trust 97

CHAPTER 8 What We Value 111

CHAPTER 9 What Not to Pay For 121

CHAPTER 10 Fast Learners 131


CHAPTER 11 The Secrets of Serial Innovators 139

CHAPTER 12 Beyond Business: The Medici, Oxford, and the Catholic Church 155

CHAPTER 13 Legacy through Leadership 161

Afterword 167

Appendix A: Analysis of the Top 50 U.S. Firms of 1960 171

Appendix B: Corporate Aging and Survival 177

Appendix C: Key Questions for Transforming Your Firm 181

References 187

Acknowledgments 193

About the Author 195

Index 197

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Author Information

Claudio Feser is a Director of McKinsey & Company, where he leads the McKinsey CEO Network, a practice of the company that focuses on CEO training and coaching. Feser previously managed McKinsey offices in Switzerland and Greece. During his career, he has advised the CEOs of some of the world's largest and most renowned companies.
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Press Release

November 16, 2011
Serial Innovators

Firms are like living organisms. They're born, they grow, and then they struggle to survive. In fact, the whole lifecycle of most firms is not very long. The average life expectancy of a firm is roughly 15 years, and only one out of 20 lives longer than 50 years. The graveyard of “deceased” firms spans such household names as Gulf Oil, Texaco, GTE, General Foods, Pan AM, Lehman Brothers, Polaroid Corporation, and Enron. As firms age, they struggle to keep with changing markets, and slow adapters often get taken over or go bankrupt. Sometimes, firms resist the process of aging and adapt and thrive by continuously inventing new products and services that make life healthier, better, safer and in doing so not only do they change the world, they create value for their customers, shareholders and employees. In his new book SERIAL INNOVATORS (Wiley; November 2011; $34.95; 978-1-118-14992-8; Hardcover, Ebook), Claudio Feser, a McKinsey & Co Director, addresses the aging of firms, the factors affecting it, and the secrets of building a firm that continuously re-invents itself to avoid certain death.

Reviewing recent findings from across diverse academic fields—including economics, psychology, neuroscience, and sociology—the book presents an exciting new understanding of how growing firms develop rigidities that prevent change. Using these findings, Feser develops a model of organization that is adaptive, is innovative, and creates value for all stakeholders over long periods of time, forming a practical guide for building the ultimate firm—one that is able to withstand market changes.

The book is also a fable of Carl Berger, the fictitious young CEO of a global medical device firm who is faced with the challenges of managing a large and aging organization. Feser combines the story of Carl with short, insightful, academically thorough reviews of research developments related to company adaptation, innovation, and growth, to make complex material easily accessible.

SERIAL INNOVATORS demonstrates how an organization must be able to evolve in dynamic markets and to continuously reinvent itself in order to be successful.

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