Fighting to survive: natural selection in business

There has been a lot of talk recently about businesses having to fight to survive, but is this really the right approach in this current economic climate? Is it ever the right approach whatever the economic climate?

Fighting to survive

Often ‘fighting to survive’ is understood as working in the same way as usual, only harder. Working harder, selling more, but without fundamental change to the way in which this is done. And, in the current economic climate, whilst trying to do all this on a cost-cutting budget.

Sadly for many businesses this doesn’t work and the approach actually damages the business rather than helping it. Fighting to survive, without change, releases very little, if any, untapped potential within the business.

The Darwinian Approach explains why this is the case.

The weakest businesses in a marketplace struggle to survive
Even without a changing environment, we still see natural selection in action: the weakest businesses die or are killed by predators/competitors.

An unchanging business in a changing environment dies
Businesses operate in an always changing environment. Most of the time businesses can get away with slow evolution, or in a strong market, not evolving at all. However, when a market changes rapidly it often isn’t enough to do that. Nor is it enough to just fight by doing the same things as the business has always done.

How can we use the Darwinian approach to create a new strategy for survival?

  1. Survival of the fittest: building a strong business. A business is the sum of its parts: its people; its processes; its product/services; its culture; its financial position; its marketing; its customers etc.. The business needs to be strong to survive. Some are already strong; but all can be stronger.
  2. Design your business for evolution and change. A strong business is always growing, always developing and always moving forwards – in every area. If a business isn’t doing this, it’s going backwards. This is often about the culture of the corporation, and about the leadership who drives the movement. There does need to be someone in the centre who has the authority and ability to sponsor change – without that there is no permission for the organisation to change. It is about designing and building an organisation with the cabability to change. If this isn’t happening already, change is possible: it won’t be an easy journey but it is vital for survival.
  3. Understand the changing environment. Awareness of what is going on around you and enough distance and awareness to make intelligent decisions about how it will effect your business is critical. It requires looking ahead and around, then taking space to think, consider and understand. Only then can you respond.
  4. Respond: strategy and implementation. Strategy can be developed only from taking a holistic view internally and externally and deciding on a waypoint (it’s not a destination as you never actually stop journeying). Implementation comes from understanding the implications of that strategy and planning your journey, being ready to react and revise along the way. Without effective implementation there is no movement or change.

In the present economic climate, as markets change in unprecedented ways, adaptation of businesses to the environment is vital. Without adaptation, re-positioning, understanding the changing environment and reacting accordingly, businesses will struggle to survive. Business evolution is paramount.

Article by

Matt Stocker

Matt is founder and director of Stocker Partnership, a strategy and innovation consultancy. As a strategist, designer, innovator and geek, he's known for his creative thinking. Matt thrives in challenging environments and loves to push the boundaries of possibility. He's a big picture, visual thinker who is always running 5 to 10 years ahead. More about us

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