Dave on May 16th, 2013

The Great Recession has changed market attractiveness — perhaps for the long-term — for many, many organizations. The ability to adapt will determine the survivors and thrivers. Therefore, let’s take a closer look at four key points.

First, the ability to adapt and the ability to react are not the same.
We react to a contract being cancelled; we adapt to changing market conditions. neandertal-twilight_smReacting is a response to an event; adapting is a form of evolution. Organizations, like species in the natural world, adapt to improve their fitness to succeed in their environment. (According to Scientific American, the extinction of Neanderthals may well have been caused by their inability to adapt quickly enough to rapid climate swings and not by competition or inter-breeding with modern humans. See terrific 6-minute video.)

Second, the ability to adapt has three parts:

  • Finding opportunities to add value within an enterprise’s doable sphere
  • Enrolling the necessary resources (employees, partners, capital, technologies)
  • Executing well

The ability to continually find and deliver new value to customers trumps all other business competencies. Organizations that do it well see themselves as “can-do” market leaders; others label it “change” and wring their hands.

Third, each act of adaptation is a strategic initiative: an assignment of resources to a potential opportunity. The great entrepreneurs — like Carnegie, Disney, Walton, and Gates — forged their success not from a grand vision or technological genius, but from a cascade of adaptations aimed at creating new value. These strategic initiatives are eventually aggregated and relabeled, erroneously, by history as a Grand Strategy. The truth is far more instructive!


Fourth, creating new value faster is a competitive advantage. In 1997, I first read Wheelwright and Clark’s book Revolutionizing Product Development and have been referring to it as a book of strategy ever since. In this simple but powerful diagram, they capture a truth about business in a rapidly-changing environment: if you are a fast-cycle enterprise that can adapt (create new value) quickly, you can overcome slower competitors despite their lead and improve your fitness despite turbulence.

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