Zappos still ahead of the curve

Whatever happened to…?

«Although Zappos’ pursuit of self-organization has been non-linear and even chaotic at times, the company is still ahead of the curve, providing others with a model for what works and what doesn’t, under different conditions—notably for its parent company Amazon, which appears to regard Zappos as an incubator of sorts for new management practices.

The academic community is taking notice as well. In 2017, Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson and researcher Michael Y. Lee (now an assistant professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD) published a paper exploring the limits of hierarchical organizations and the “recent surge in interest in less-hierarchical organizing.” Edmondson and Lee highlighted Zappos as a case study and pointed to the influence of holacracy in particular.

Today, several hundred organizations operate as holacracies. Some of the early adopters, like Twitter co-founder Ev Williams’ Medium, have already abandoned it. “Longstanding research tradition suggests that managerial hierarchy functions more effectively in stable conditions,” Edmondson and Lee wrote, “but faces serious challenges in dynamic conditions.”»

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