It's everywhere in our culture. Booze. Drugs. Food. Sex. Gambling. Spending. And so on.
Anyone who isn't floundering in the net already, or if they're lucky, punching their way out of it, certainly knows someone who is.
Addiction is a fatal mental illness, in the end, without some form of treatment. And of course there are treatment centres all over the world. The centres that prove to be successful in the long run, moving thousands of addicts from basic survival through to a life more or less worth living, are almost invariably based on the well established 12-step programmes that originated with the foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous - AA - in Ohio in 1935.
This is not the place to go into details of what is, famously, an anonymous fellowship exclusively for those seeking recovery from alcoholism. But based on the success of the movement founded by alcoholics Bill Wilson and Bob Smith 80 years ago, there are today well over 50 distinct 12 step programmes, covering all the familiar manifestations of the condition, and a few that we may never have thought or heard about.
In the face of what had, till the movement began, been an entirely unsurmountable condition, these programmes provide a planned route to survival for using addicts, whose previous fate would have been increasing humiliation, loss of health, social status, family and friends, and all too commonly, an early, lonely death.
These programmes represent, we suddenly grasp, the single most successful secular model of personal transformation we have ever seen.
Right. But what does this have to do with the challenges facing the leadership of many of the world's largest corporations, battling with a way forward to corporate survival and growth against a headwind of disruption and chronic market turbulence?
I didn't consciously realise, when I was writing my recent, mercifully brief strategy book, The Liquid Enterprise: How The Network Changes Value, What It Means for Business, And What Leadership Needs to Do About It (published early March by Infinite Ideas, and now on Amazon worldwide) that I was describing corporate and market phenomena whose resemblance to the problem of addiction is remarkable.
The premise for the work is challenging but simple. I claim that technology, along with a range of other cultural and commercial accelerants, pushes markets and their customers forward too fast for previous models of business strategy to cope with.
We need to focus no longer on just "doing different things" (for example, customer experience or centricity programmes, efficiency-based digital transformation programmes and innovation). We need to think entirely differently.
We must learn to think about value, about the market, and about the shape and dynamics of the enterprise in radically new ways, in order to weather the storm of network disruption and the chronic turbulence it confers on most industry sectors.
And this is where is gets interesting. It's notoriously difficult to get organisations to think differently. The stark challenges facing the change leader in any substantial business originate derive from human nature. We just don't like change. And we'll go to extraordinary, often illogical lengths to avoid it.
Here lies the connection with addiction. One of the great - perhaps the greatest - insights introduced by the founders of the world's proliferating 12 step programmes, is this. "The problem isn't the drinking. It's the thinking."
Addicts have all, to a man or woman, learned survival tools that, while perhaps helping them along in the earlier stages of their lives and using, become decreasingly useful and eventually toxic. Their obsessions - typically distinguished as either "substance" (alcohol, drugs) or "process" (shopping, gambling) addictions - are attempts to manage - and eventually medicate - a failure to cope with their experience of life.
More brutally put, their wiring is all wrong, and until it's effectively untangled - and this is not the work of weeks, but months and even years - no significant progress is possible.
My core hypothesis in The Liquid Enterprise, when looked at through this new lens of chronically dysfunctional behaviour, is that there are two deeply embedded "addictions" that enterprises struggling to handle disruption and transformation are battling with.
The "process addiction" is a hunt for certainty of decisioning, based on a now-false premise that the information on which mission-critical business commitments are made remains consistent, reliable and robust over time. This is no longer remotely practical as an assumption. There's so much data flooding across The Network, at such increasing speed and complexity, that the bases for an major change programme are more or less invalid from the start.
But of course, when you're facing turbulence of this scale, the old blanket of certainty feels impossible to let go of.
The corresponding "substance addiction", which is naturally closely linked to the crisis in decision quality, is a toxic dependence on data.
When information was in short supply, its effect on competitive advantage was direct and undeniable. Now, given the data tsunami mentioned above, actionable signal is not only lost in a storm of noise, but our ability to go beyond merely capturing and storing petabytes of more or less random information, on the assumption that this warehouse in itself represents enterprise value, to put it to useful work, is painfully limited.
Look at where the precious, challenging and - till a few years ago - inspiring business of advertising has got to. Putting aside the adblocking crisis - in itself a symptom, far more than a cause of anything - many of advertising's most senior and committed practitioners (and there are plenty of big digital thinkers among them) are publicly expressing their dismay, and their desire to get out and do something that matters. That is useful and creatively exciting.
In The Liquid Enterprise, I argue that the fundamental shift in thinking and behaviour that's demanded now, is that enterprise leadership let go of evidence-based strategy and management, and move towards confidence-based models of assessment and commitment.
This is not, in itself, from another planet, as a way of thinking. Strategists and practitioners have been playing with real options as a mechanic for actively managing change and complexity for some years now.
But perhaps we're getting ahead of ourselves.
As mentioned above, it's close to impossible to get an individual, let alone a whole organisation, to fundamentally change embedded behaviours that - rightly or wrongly - it believes are crucial to survival.
But we must. As the song goes, the drugs don't work anymore.
One phenomenon that will be familiar to anyone who has dealt with a family member, friend or colleague in the grips of an active addiction is their diamond-hard, impenetrable denial about their condition, and its effects on their own life and those of others.
In treatment circles, there's a tactic called an "intervention". With the help of an experienced facilitator, family and friends sit with the addict and try to break through their denial with personal accounts of how their behaviour is damaging everything: family, money, work, kids, and so on.
These can of course be powerful, deeply moving and hopefully life-saving events. But what's equally interesting for this discussion is the counter arguments that the patient offers, seeking to defend and justify behaviours that to them seem, for now at least, natural and utterly irreplaceable.
"So and so has the problem. I've got it under control." "I still have my job." "How do expect me to cope with x, y or z without a drink?" And so on. You know the form.
Scarily, this type of argument manifests every day in the corporate world. And at the risk of perhaps losing some friends, my belief is that the 3 core responses that most major enterprises are adopting are based on denial, on a fierce and frightened defence of the norm: they combine in various flavours, but tend to boil down to digital transformation, customer experience and innovation.
Nothing wrong with any of these responses per se. But as long as they continue to support a way of doing strategy, a paradigm of business thinking, that is rooted in simpler, happier times when everything was slow and easy, we are fiddling. When we should be burning Rome.
The role of pointing out to the Emperor his lack of clothing is, inevitably, an invidious one. But it has to be done. Radical, exhilarating new ways of thinking about enterprise and customer value are urgently needed.
Is the problem really that bad? Well, in some circles, perhaps no.
Manufacturing, till recently a classic poster child, along with the record industry, of the destruction that unfettered information can wreak on a sector, is rising again, propelled by the efficiencies and brand new value conferred by the IoT. Have a dig around for "Industrie 4.0" if you don't agree ... it's compelling and invigorating.
But the leaders of most incumbent consumer-facing businesses are suffering a lot of sleepless nights. Neither digital or data, along with all the big rethinks and transformations they demand, offer truly convincing solutions to the challenge, "How does this defend and grow my brand?"
And there's no problem with either data or digital per se. It's the thinking.
Survival is, for many of these enterprises, hard to honestly envisage. As for growth ... well, what does that even look like?
The game's not over yet. But as long as we fail to revisit, revise and radically reimagine strategy, we're on the road to nowhere.
Now. Who's got the balls - the brains are assumed - to make that intervention?