Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

Digital Darwinism: What Killed Borders, Blockbuster and Toys R Us and How to Survive

We live in an era of “digital Darwinism,” a time when technology and society are evolving faster than the ability of many organizations to adapt. It is for this reason (along with a myriad of other problems of course) that in fact killed Borders, Blockbuster, Toys “R” Us and the like. Not only did digital Darwinism cost us close to a half billion job, it’s only accelerating. As Leon C. Megginson once said in paraphrasing Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Over the years, I’ve studied how disruptive technology affects consumer behavior and decision-making. I’ve also researched how businesses react (or don’t) to these changes. What I’ve learned is that barring a few exceptional instances of complete ignorance, organizations are open to adaptation if there’s indeed a case made for it and a path outlined to safely and cost-effectively navigate change.

Part of the problem is that decision makers and stakeholders react to shareholders and not necessarily evolving customer expectation or transforming markets. When they are finally ready to react, it’s typically a technology-first rather than a people-first initiative. Without understanding behavior, expectations, patterns, and new touch points, technology is often the right answer at the wrong time. Ready, fire, aim.

Without vision or direction, businesses will always miss the true opportunity…

The chilling effects of digital Darwinism and the rapidly evolving consumer landscape is told in this infographic. It’s a project that I worked on with the team at Barnickel Design in New York to mark the release of What’s the Future of Business: Changing the way businesses create experiences. Even though, I’ve since followed up WTF with X: The Experience When Business Meets Design, I wanted to revisit the infographic. It seems as true today as it did then.

Here’s what you need to know…

  • Digital Darwinism is already here and it’s only going to accelerate.
  • Business as usual doesn’t stand a chance.
  • You’re not too big to fail, you’re not too small to succeed.

Read on for what leaders can do about all this… (click here for larger image)

How to Survive Digital Darwinism

In 2012, BDO, LLC, a international services firm providing assurance, tax, financial advisory and consulting services to a wide range of publicly traded and privately held companies, published its Industry Watch Report in 2012. The findings presented a clear division between UK businesses that were able to take advantage of emergent growth opportunities and those who were likely to wrestle with digital Darwinism in difficult markets. As the report found, the “gap between business winners and losers widens.”

So how do you make sure you’re on the winners’ side?

When I think back to brands I grew up with and where they are today, it’s saddening to see that many of them are gone or dying. Which brands do you remember, and of those, which are no longer with us? Leaders recognize the precious relationship a brand can have with customers. At the same time, there’s a sense of fragility, relevance and determination that must inspire leadership. As Intel’s Andy Grove often said, “Only the paranoid survive.”

While this is not the most cheerful story ever told, the silver lining is that right here, right now, management cultures that evolve into leadership cultures will thrive. And leaders must rise from somewhere and when they do, they need help – fast. You are either that leader or someone that will help leaders bring about meaningful transformation.

Competing for relevance is now a mission of every business and as such, it should be relentlessly pursued. The future of business is not about technology, greed, or short-term deals. It’s about people, purpose, and experiences.

It takes vision.

It takes empathy.

It takes courage.

The future of business lies in the shift from a culture of management to that of leadership and it begins with you.

Photo credit: macappsaddict/Flickr under Creative Commons license


Brian Solis

Brian Solis is principal analyst and futurist at Altimeter, the digital analyst group at Prophet, Brian is world renowned keynote speaker and 7x best-selling author. His latest book, X: Where Business Meets Design, explores the future of brand and customer engagement through experience design.

Please, invite him to speak at your event or bring him in to inspire colleagues and fellow executives/boards.

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2 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Digital Darwinism: What Killed Borders, Blockbuster and Toys R Us and How to Survive”

  1. We’ve experience this locally in one of our malls. Most of the businesses except for 3 couldn’t adapt, and now the mall is a vacant desert.
    It’s surprising sometimes how a majority of these struggling businesses and sometimes even larger companies, don’t see the trend that’s coming that could either wipe out, or scale their business.
    It’s coming, and not preventable, so they must change! Or be lost…

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