Stop Copying the Spotify model

It’s a thursday morning around 9 am, I just had my first cup of coffee when the phone rings. The display says it’s Eric, one of our costumers. He runs the IT department for a large financial company. For Eric we created a transition plan to make his IT department more flexible, improve their time to market and quality of service. More “Agile” so to say, although I’m beginning to resent this word. When I answer the phone with a casual: “Good morning Eric, how are you?”, he replies enthousiastic: “Hi Martijn, I’m doing great. Yesterday somebody showed me how they do things at Spotify and I really loved it. The presentation [1] [2] was from a guy named Kniberg and it was really inspiring. This is what I want for my department. Could you rewrite the transtion plan so we can be just like Spotify.” For a moment my blood presure rises. Not another company who, based on just Knibergs presentation wants to be like Spotify. I wonder why I keep making plans specific for each organization while I could just as easily be copying the Spotify model. Less effort on our side! When my blood pressure drops a bit I tell Eric: “Ok, we can do just that. But keep in mind we’d probably have to fire almost all of your staff and change the business model of your company”.

There is just a long silence on the other side of the line, and when Eric starts to speak again all sorts of questions come out: “What do you mean? fire my staff? why can’t it be done? they did it!! change my bussiness? we can’t do that!!” Patiently I wait untill he overcomes this moment of disbelieve before I start to explain why, while hoping we will not loose a customer over this Spotify model.

I’m a big soccer fan so for this I’m using a soccer metafore. My favourite club is Barcelona, luckily at the moment they are one of the best clubs in the world. They play amazing football, have some of the best players in the world and win lots of prizes. What most people forget is that they also have one of the best youth academies and throughout all their teams they play the same system using the same tactics so everyone knows what’s expected of them. Over the last 10-15 years they’ve had multiple coaches(managers) and each of them was successfull. The fact that all managers were succesfull for me is a sign that succes only partly depends on the manager. When their best player(Messi) was out for a few months other players stepped up and the team kept winning matches, playing great football. Also a good sign. Let’s say that Barcelona is like Spotify.

Now you are the president of a football club in a different country and you’re not happy with the way things are going. Your team has fought a relegation battle for 2 seasons in a row and something has to change for the coming season to prevent relegation. Relegation means you won’t be able to contract good players anymore and the income the club generates would drastically drop. So the club is a bit desperate. Last weekend the president of the club watched a Barcelona match on TV and he loved it. Great football, lots of goals so what’s not to love!! The next day the president of this club calls the manager of the first team up to his office and showes him the Barcelona match. After enjoying the match together the president tells the manager that next season he wants their first team to play like Barcelona. Ridiculous right? I hope you think it is. If I was the manager of this club I would resign in an instant.

I love the Spotify model just like I love to see Barcelona play. It’s really inspiring! But for me it is just that, each company or club has its own capabilities based on the market they are in, the employees they have and the way the company operates. You can not just copy one model onto the other and expect it to fit. Each transition, their begin and end state is different. Not one company reactes the same to a transition and therefore we have different outcomes. Creating and especially executing a transition plan requires hard work, sacrifices, things that won’t and will work. It’s not about copying a model or writing up best practices, that’s the easy part. Be inspired by Spotify, but never say you want to be like them. Find out what works for you. Never ever forget that!!!