The great white sharks have been swimming in the oceans for eons, some sixteen million years at least. Will the great whites be disrupted from the oceanic ecosystem after having survived so many changes in the past? It does not seem very likely. Nor did it seem very likely to the Megalodon that it would become extinct after 26 million years of oceanic majesty, yet it did. How could that happen?
You are already familiar with the three main reasons, because they are often the same. Changes in (business) climate: with global cooling came dropping sea levels restricting the habitat and spawning grounds. Changes in the market: their main prey evolved to be faster and more agile and harder to catch. (BTW: does prey count as customers or suppliers in this analogy?) Changes in the competition: the Megalodon were outcompeted by “raptorial delphinids”. Gradually, these animals entered the legacy of history. Sharks, as pointed out by Gene Hughson, can only live as long as they swim, but:
It’s not enough to just swim, you must swim with purpose.
Part of a conversation on innovation
Those were the closing words of Gene’s post “Organizations and Innovation – Swim or Die!“. Part 7 of a blog conversation between Gene and me. You can read this blog post (part 8) without reading the previous ones, but if you want to read them, here they are: Part 6 “Social innovation and tech go hand-in-hand” (video), part 5 “Inflection Points and the Ingredients of Innovation“, part 4 “Serendipity and successful innovation“, part 3 “Fixing IT – Too Big to Succeed?“, part 2 “Serendipity with Woody Zuill” and part 1 “We Deliver Decisions (Who Needs Architects?)“.
The Megalodon were not able to keep up with the disruption going on around them. As humans, we have been more successful. We only needed a few thousand years to evolve genetically and culturally from hunter-gatherers to agriculturalists. Over a period of 2000 years, hunter-gatherers slowly died out or adopted the agricultural life style.
Corporations today do not have the luxury of waiting 2000 years to decide if they should innovate or be disrupted. Some fifty years ago, the average company lifespan of Fortune 500 companies was 60 years. Today it’s 15 and soon it will be more like 12 years. The reason is likely a combination of innovation and an ever accellerating speed of communication as argued by Simon Wardley in his excellent blog post “Of Peace, War and Wonder vs Company Age“.
Resistance to change
There is surely a whole literature on innovation blockers. Various models are applied such as blaming people, aka “resistance to change“. Or actually, that is probably the most applied model. It has a certain allure, we all know how hard it is to change from personal experience. Who hasn’t tried to loose weight and failed and failed and … Or learn a new language, not as easy as in Star Trek with their universal translator. But we are not trying to change people, we are trying to change organizations.
Prof Bo Molander once pointed out to me and the other students in the class that when you try to change people, you go up against billions of years of evolution, “good luck with that” and when you try to change groups, you go up against millions of years of evolutions, “good luck with that too”. The only thing you can hope to change is the organization. It is the same with my sheep, I do not try to change them as individuals or as a flock but by managing their access to shelter, food and water and by managing onboarding and offboarding of individual sheep in the flock I do manage the whole organization according to my goals.
While “resistance is futile” so is “resistance to change” as an explation model to promote innovation. I agree with the conventional wisdom that individuals are resistant to change and even change resistors. But that explanation model will do little to promote innovation in organizations. We need to look to things we can change if we want to promote innovation. We need to have the social, organizational and technological readiness to embrace innovation.
By the way
We have made a number of videos on innovation and IT:
- Resistance is futile: Nick Sherman on Flikcr | CC BY NC SA 2.0
Great quote “It’s not enough to just swim, you must swim with purpose.” Gene Hughson. Actions or omissions must be aligned with the purpose.