AOL: How to make less with more

Sep 12, 2011

In recent months the seemingly age-old game of ragging on AOL has resurfaced.Not surprising, given the hodge-podge of initiatives and squirelly stuff it has tried to pass off as strategy of late. Not surprisingly its share valuation has suffered accordingly. Now comes news that CEO Tim Armstrong wants to buy another mess – Yahoo, but that it isn’t gonna happen.

The underlying reason for AOL’s seeping, intractable lack of success is simple – too many Visionaries.

As I show in my upcoming book, “The Synergist: Leading Your Team to Predictable Success”, a top team can work well with multiple Processors and Operators, but too many Visionaries spoils the broth. (See: Jobs and Sculley, Jay-Z and Nas, Sumner Redstone and just about anybody).

Tim Armstrong is undoubtedly a Visionary. So is Arianna Huffington. Michael Arrington is one in spades. There isn’t a snowball’s chance in you-know-where that they will ever play nice together. Yet over and over again business deals get completed that throw two incompatible Visionaries together in a triumph of hopeful greed over oft-repeated experience.

You don’t scale vision by adding more Visionaries at the top – all that does is create warring fiefdoms. You scale vision by pushing it down into the organization. AOL doesn’t get this, and doesn’t look like it ever will.