|Designing Adaptive Organizations – Lonely Planet
[upbeat rock music]
Hi, Dr. Carl? I was wondering if there's any way I can skip my paper on structuring an organization. I mean, it's kind of boring. It's kind of dry. It just seems a little abstract. Yeah, well, I did do my interviews at Lonely Planet.
Do they seem like--are they relevant to, like, real businesspeople? Um. All right. Sorry to bug you. All right, I'll try to figure something out. Thanks.
Lonely Planet is structured as a global company. We have offices headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, and then offices here in the San Francisco Bay area,
in London, and as well as in Paris.
And we're structured in such a way where we really try and consolidate different functions that make sense to be consolidated globally, so some things go across the board, and then we have some functions which are regional.
We look at functions like publishing that are really trying to appeal to a very global audience. The travelers that we appeal to with our books are very global in nature. We consider them global citizens not tied to any particular country but travelers who are looking to travel responsibly and with respect for the cultures they visit. And those people can live in any country, so it makes sense for that to be globalized in nature.
When we look at what makes sense to do regionally, it's where we have specific market issues that need to be addressed. Things like different retailers are in different markets, whether you're in the U.S., the UK, or Australia.
Differences in language. Differences in images that would appeal to different audiences.
So what we do is, we try and globalize in nature our core offering, which is our products, and then regionalize the marketing to specifically talk to the audiences.
Does this structure give you more credibility?
That's a good question.
Well, first of all, there are very few guidebook companies that have the global--the breadth of our list. I can think of one in particular that has offices in New York and London, and I believe they do some of their production in India.
I think it does hamper the work, because I think that one of the benefits of our structure is that, as we commission authors, for example, to write guides to,
say, U.S. destinations, we're getting a really authoritative author voice. We're getting people that know the destinations that they're traveling to.
And my sense from some of the competition is that I'm getting--in the case of a U.S. title, I'm getting a non-American perspective.I'm getting sort of a non-insider feel in the outcome of the tone and sort of the voice of the author. It's more of sort of an observer than it is someone who's lived in the city for five years or, you know, has a whole history with the place.
That's what we're looking for, is the ability to really share that depth of knowledge and that sort of insider feel with the audience, with the readers.
Well, it makes sense, as I said earlier, because the people that are involved in the editorial aspect of producing guides to the Americas here are all very familiar with the markets.
And each of the commissioning editors that I oversee are responsible for a specific region of the Americas, so there's even further developed expertise
both in, you know, travel trends and market trends, but also in just late-breaking news in a destination.
You know, it enables us to really be in touch with what's happening in each of these regions and what's hot, what's promising, what's--you know, what our competitors are doing, et cetera, et cetera.
And then from my perspective, from an editorial sort of overview, again it's just the ability to manage the Americas list kind of at a high level and to be aware--to make use of the commissioning editor's expertise when, you know, making decisions about the list as a whole as they relate to decisions that are being made about other lists globally, like the Europe list and the Africa and Middle East.
What do I like about the way Lonely Planet is structured. I think it's really interesting--it really emphasizes the global nature of the company. It's structured sort of--there's an office in all regions.
For us, on the web in particular, it's interesting because we work a lot with two particular groups that are in Melbourne. One is an applications group which does technology. Another is a design group.
So obviously it presents a time zone challenge, but it's also interesting in that there are times when we can do testing or work here, and then we sort of hand it off to them as they're coming in.
So if it's sort of timed right, it could actually be a little more effective, so--I think that's both sort of a good part and a challenge at the same time.
But that's pretty specific to my role or the web in general.
One of the main things we can get out of it is, with an office in Australia,
UK, and here, we'll get the globe covered from an IT support perspective.
So as we're going home, Australia's coming in. As Australia's going home,
London's coming in. London's going home, we're coming in. So we can get support globally for all of our email systems and all of our other systems worldwide.
I guess another thing, again back on support, we can support the authors. We got authors on the road, I think 200 to 300 authors on the road at any one point in time. We can support those guys wherever they are. And I often get phone calls from Brazil and from, you know, East Coast U.S., and wherever to be able to support them, you know?
And I guess one of the other little benefits for me particularly is, being an Australian, I've managed to get a position in the U.S., which is fairly hard to get. But it gives me the opportunity to work in an environment and a market that's 14 times the size of the market at home.
So you get a lot of sort of personal benefits and personal growth from that.
I think having colleagues of different cultures is not only rewarding personally
but business-wise, as well. So we've had some amazing concepts and ideas come in from overseas that we never would have thought of on our own. Yeah, just having the different perspectives on the same goals, I guess. And then personally, having any kind of conference or working relationships cross-office has been personally very rewarding. So I mean, I've learned more about people from this kind of structure than I have working at a company that was only based in the U.S.
Well, on a global level, one of the things that has really helped our structure
worldwide this year is that we have centralized our warehousing in Singapore.
And so instead of shipping directly--since our printers are in Asia, it only became logical to, instead of shipping directly to the different regions, to centralize everything, consolidate it in Singapore, and then we have a lot more
control to making sure that the proper freight gets to the proper warehouses.
It has reduced a lot of redundancy on a worldwide basis and saved us quite a bit of money, as well as streamlining the whole supply chain.
I got your message about the first draft of Lonely Planet. I'll look at the tapes again to see what they said about the organizational structure. Freddy."
I think Lonely Planet is actually a very flat organization, and part of it is because we're a very lean organization. And when you're lean, you need to allow everyone to grow to their greatest potential, to make decisions, to make them fast. And if we had too much hierarchy, it would slow us down dramatically.
So we're too small to be too top-heavy or anything else. And the idea is, "Let's just get some good things done." So there's certainly an emphasis on taking action, and I think that's what helps to drive us forward.
I think the benefits of our flat organization is, people feel like they have
much more a role in what's happening at the organization. They feel they can drive a decision. They can make a program a reality. They can state their opinion and have it make a difference.
I've been a part of top-heavy organizations where you feel like essentially your opinion doesn't matter. And here, every opinion matters. Every individual has a key role. One of the things we've tried to do as an organization is tie every single person's job responsibilities to the overall company objectives, so people are really, really clear as to how their role fits into the big picture.
And I think, at a flat organization, you have the opportunity to do that. Once you get too hierarchical, you lose some of that incredible sort of nimbleness and that feeling of involvement.
"Hey, Jess, what's up? Yo, Dr. Carl really busted me today. He made me rewrite the paper about how Lonely Planet is set up. It was cool, though. I think I had a revelation about why all this structure stuff matters. It makes people feel like they're really having an impact. You could see it in their eyes.
And speaking of eyes, when can I see you?"