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Digital Darwinism


Blockbuster. Circuit City. The classified’s section in your local newspaper (or even the newspaper itself). Kodak. Nokia (as the world’s largest manufacturer of mobile phones). The creative destruction is all around us. It has been accelerating and expanding into new industries and today every executive in every industry should be asking not “if” but “when” will technology become the primary external factor shaping their organizations.

Author and Altimeter analyst Brian Solis describes what we are seeing today as “Digital Darwinism” and in a recent blog post he describes how companies can embrace digital transformation to address this challenge.  He writes:

“The answer to digital Darwinism is digital transformation. Digital transformation is the use of technology and methodology to address shifts in behavior by upgrading or overhauling processes and systems that amplify existing and unforeseen opportunities.”

But as Brian goes on to point out, embracing new technology, new processes, and even new business models is not easy — he calls this Darwinism because as in Darwin’s theory of evolution, not all organisms will thrive given changes in an ecosystem. As in an often quoted paraphrase of Darwin’s theory by Louisiana State University business professor Leon C. Megginson:

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”

Throughout the history of civilization, the organizations we have created to develop, produce, and distribute good and services have undergone change brought upon them by external factors. Sometimes, as in the period of the middle ages called the “little ice age,” the external factor has been climate. Sometimes, as in the fall of the Roman empire, the external factor was geo-political. During the Renaissance the primary factor was arguably the influx of wealth from the new world into Europe. But the interplay between different factors has always existed and technological innovation has certainly played a role at many of these moments.

Today, however, technology has emerged as the dominant factor — not reducing or eliminating climate, politics, or resource extraction as factors but decidedly dominating them and even impacting how those other factors will play out in the decades to come as forces for change in their own right. Today technology is one hoped for avenue to ameliorate climate change, to maintain geo-political stability, and to identify more powerful methods for extracting oil or mineral wealth from our environment.

But for most organization the impact of technology has a more immediate resonance — how it is changing the way people live, work, play… Brian Solis refers to the emergence of a new “Generation-C” where the “C” stands for “connected.” Digital technologies are definitevely and permanently changing expectations for how we will do our jobs, by products, experience services… and organizations MUST react to these changed expectations.