Built to Last

Published April 09, 2018

This week, we began reading Jim Collins’ Built to Last, a business management classic that attempts to identify why certain ‘visionary’ companies have become both synonymous with technological progress and essential to our daily lives. In it, he unpacks the various myths around success in business (genius idea and genius leader being the most common) and presents an alternative model for success focussed less on individual ideas or genius and more on organizational structure and institutional longevity. In the context of this course on telecommunications infrastructure, however, it might be necessary to re-evaluate our parameters for business success altogether.

In this course, we’ve looked at how we might help develop infrastructure solutions for communities whose needs are not met by large telecommunications companies. In large part, these communities are too small and too remote to present a profit-incentive for telcos to install infrastructure. By most standards, these telcos are successful businesses, but in choosing not to serve a community, they reveal their priorities: profit first, communications second. Where would they rank in Collins’ eye? Where should they rank in ours? When infrastructure is provided by private companies through a profit-model, how do we ensure that everyone’s communications needs are met? When does a communications product become a basic right?

The companies in Collins’ book are universally massive – large multi-national corporations with global presences. They are long-lasting, according to Collins, because they retain a unified vision and set of goals across incredibly complex management structures – communication infrastructure becomes a vital part of maintaining this vision. Outside of these companies, however, the world has no unified vision. Because no two communities share the exact same priorities, our communications infrastructure should not be a monolith, but allow flexibility of implementation to suit their needs.