Life Cycles of an Organization

In the book Barbarians to Bureaucrats¬†author Lawrence Miller writes about the life cycles of an organization. It’s such a phenomenal book, if I could, I’d buy the rights to it. Here are the roles that people play when building countries – or businesses.


Both civilizations and businesses start with prophets. The prophet could be the founding fathers, the visionary. They are the people with the idea, such as Steve Wozniak.


The next phase of the business is when the barbarians arrive. They are typically impatient, and have a strong sense of urgency. One of the quotes in the book by Peter MacArthur and it essentially says, "Every successful enterprise needs three people: a dreamer, a businessman, and an S.O.B." And you know what an S.O.B. is, right? You need someone that's going to go out and ruffle the feathers a bit. That's the barbarian. Steve Jobs is an example of a barbarian.

Builders and Explorers

The next phase is the builder and explorer phase. These could be salesmen, the people that are willing to go out and take the product international. They may sell it in China or somewhere else. Builders and explorers are people like Rockefeller, Ford, Franklin, Walton. They create jobs.


Next you have the administrator. The administrator phase is when a company starts putting regulations, rules, systems and laws in place. Administrators sometimes annoy the builders because they get in their way. They annoy them because they slow things down.


The next phase is the bureaucrat. The bureaucrat is about control. They are the lawmakers who now tell the administrators what to do. They don't connect with people all the time, and they don't do well with prophets.


The next phase is the aristocrats. Aristocrats act like the Almighty. The attitude is, "I know better than you. I'm smarter than everybody. I know what's best for all people."


We can't prevent these phases. It happens to great empires and great organizations. And typically the person that keeps it together is the synergist. Every nation, civilization and corporation has many synergists.

Fallen Empires

Many empires such as the Syrian empire and the Roman empire have fallen in the past. But when you look at this, here's the key. The key is to keep the civilization or organization in the phase where creativity and creation is constantly happening. Make sure there is constant growth, expansion, and innovation. The best way to keep from being a fallen empire is to maintain energy and enthusiasm.


Patrick Bet-David
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