AERIALS 2015 was a daylong symposium—a series of talks, panels and open discussions—exploring organizational design, leadership, and purpose in the 21st century. Held in Toronto on October 7, 2015, AERIALS was a partnership between Totem (a custom content and service design agency) and The Alpine Review.
This is a letter from AERIALS curator and The Alpine Review publisher, Louis-Jacques Darveau written on the occasion of the inaugural event:
In less than twenty-four months, U.S. retail giant Target both entered and exited Canada. And in doing so, amassed over two billion in losses and a long list of casualties from suppliers and partners, with nearly 18 thousand lost jobs. An entire retail landscape was forced to adjust and then re-adjust.
The question we’re all left asking: How can a company that can afford the best data, the best strategists, with the best-laid plans, fall headfirst into such spectacular failure?
The answer is both simple and complex. Target’s Canadian adventure was modeled around an outdated, mechanistic paradigm—one that is ill-suited for the world we live in. They have learned that it is not possible to ‘invade’ a country even if they had, in theory, all of the capacities to do so—solid branding, design sensitivity, reputation, financial might, operational sophistication, etc. Insiders told me that it was only as Target started shipping half-empty containers that they realized they hadn’t even taken account of the fact that Canada uses the metric system. Plagued by organizational silos, dysfunctional communication, competing and conflicting demands, Target had little chance of succeeding because it did not operate as a network. 
Retail is complex.
At its heart, retail is extremely complex and volatile, and is anchored in various communities and niches. Retail battles are akin to insurgencies; they are not fought at the city level. They are fought in neighborhoods, on streets and in very particular sections of such streets. How often have we seen one restaurant fail and another one succeed on the same street corner with a mere name and menu change?
Target’s failure in Canada demonstrates something that might appear obvious for somebody who works in this space. But the truth is that organizations designed in the 20th century, under a mechanistic framework, are not prepared to face 21st century conditions, where volatility is predominant. This new existence involves a new kind of thinking around relationships, patterns, and context. In science, it is called 'systems thinking’. 
Instead of marching with great fanfare into a country it did not know, Target should have made smaller steps, creating local connections and forging ties with the communities it aimed to serve. It needed to establish the trust it needed to endure.
We are in an age of systems and networks.
While the theoretical case is clear, there is no single roadmap on how transformation will take hold for organizations. There have been a number of unsatisfying catchphrases, predominant in startup culture, like “fail early, fail fast.” But we don’t have to fall back on easy, empty mantras as we navigate our way through. It’s not too early to understand how we can help change organizations.
Until we find ways to act—rather than to read and share thinkpieces—billions if not trillions of dollars of value will continue to disappear. Organizations must wake up to the urgent need for a new operating model. We’ve all heard the story of how Eastman Kodak was ‘disrupted’ by Instagram (Kodak employed 140,000 people compared to Instagram’s 13) but such stories, unfortunately, are also profoundly changing the fabric of our society. We should not be amused by large organizations being taken down by the latest winner-takes-all  San Francisco startup. The consequences, on the job market specifically, are both very real and very human.
And so, Aerials aims to evolve and elevate the conversation by bringing together a collection of practitioners from different parts of the world. We will explore and unpack these changes and work towards useful frameworks and ways to collaborate for a better future for those embattled organizations who must perform contortionist acrobatics as they constantly renew their license to operate.
— Louis-Jacques Darveau, September 2015