Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
January 19, 201210:30 PM

Adapt Or Die

Do you like the saying, "adapt or die"?

There are days when it is the soundtrack of my life and then there are days when I shake my head at what the connotation truly means. You see, it's easy to be an armchair quarterback and say that the newspaper industry, the music industry, the book publishing industry, the retail industry, a traditional advertising agency... and almost every other industry should adapt or die. We live in interesting times (to steal a turn of phrase from the ancient Chinese curse) but it's not so easy to make the pivot that Eric Ries writes about in his business book, The Lean Startup when you're not a lean startup but a business that's been around the block (and has the scars to prove it).

Instead of shaking your finger at those businesses turn the question on yourself.

Do you find it easy to adapt? Most of us do, but when it comes to the saying, "adapt or die," we're not just talking about learning a new skill set or taking on more duties at the office. What we're really saying is change everything and start fresh. Think about it. When we say to a newspaper, "adapt or die," what are we really saying...

  • Your business model is no longer viable.
  • Your current business model is becoming obsolete.
  • All of your investments (printing press, skilled labor, transportation, etc...) are now a liability.
  • Your staff are no longer in touch with the newer business models.
  • There are less and less consumers interested in what you are selling.
  • Your way of doing things converted to the digital frontier does not equate to the same revenue.
  • Your channels of innovation aren't nimble enough to beat a fresh startup.
  • Your technology is already considered a legacy system.
  • Your employees (who may even be unionized) don't make it easy to change.
  • Your shareholders will not stand for a revolution, they want continued and stable growth. Not risk.

What would you do?

It's easy to say, "go digital. It's all about the Web or mobile or Social," but these are companies that have both a legacy and a functioning business model. While that business model may be tarnished in this day and age, it is still profitable and keeps many people employed. Must that all be destroyed in order to truly thrive in our ever-changing economy? Again, put yourself in their shoes... would you be able to pull the trigger? To break the leaseholds, to fire everyone (or almost everyone), to completely disrupt the business model for a new one, to begin the long (and arduous) process of (basically) starting over, to recruit, hire and train a new team for the this new work, to educate both yourself and those who may be able to make the transition effectively... and on and on?

Adaptation, disruption and resting on your laurels.

Is there an example of a business that didn't completely implode everything and start over and - by the same token - didn't just sit back and let the evolution of business send them towards distinction? The answer is, of course, "yes." When you actually start digging down deep into how these companies have evolved and stayed relevant, you won't see business models that look like anything from the playbooks of Apple, Google or Facebook. These aren't radical organizations in a constant state of innovation and breakthrough technology. There are, literally, thousands of companies that have been around for over three decades that have managed to turn profits (maybe not year on year, but overall). Many of these companies we would consider to be both conservative and boring (I'm sure the shareholders are fine with being described as such), but things are about to get just a little more funky.

This isn't the end.

The fallout of these disruptive times in business shows us that we're still in the middle of it. The challenge for business is to not remain stuck in the past and not get too comfortable with how things are today. Pushing that further, you can't only be focused on the future (because we all know how bad we are at predicting that). Is it time to take chances? Absolutely. Is it time to blow everything up and start over? Maybe for some, but not for many. Is it time to kill even the profitable business units because you know there's no future in it? That's a very tough call. Regardless of what we - as business owners - are capable of, there are bigger forces at play: technology, connectivity, mobility, analytics, data, creativity, commerce, publishing and more will continue to reshape and change how we do business. My guess is that the next five to ten years are going to make the past decade's disruption seem minor in comparison.

Adapt or die? Maybe it's more like tweak and iterate?

By Mitch Joel