20 Oct 2014

The World is changing rapidly: learnings from the dinosaurs

Rapid change: importance of adaptivity

The world has been dominated during more than 150 million years by what we now call dinosaurs. They dominated water, land and air, and were able to adapt themselves to different climates on the planet. However, they disappeared, not because of lack of strength, but because other species were more able to adapt to a period of intensive climate changes than the dinosaurs. Now again, and fortunately not caused by external factors (such as meteors which speeded up the disappearance of the dinosaurs), multiple changes are occurring on the planet. Billions of people moved to middle class status in a few decennia, a global economy without frontiers emerges, and information flows at the speed of light between all inhabitants of the planet. The speed of this is without precedents in human history and the speed of change is even accelerating. What does this mean?

Who benefits from the rapid change?

While the dinosaurs disappeared from earth, the mammals replaced them very quickly and demonstrated their ability to adapt and prosper in all parts of the world.

The complexity and volatility of the environment in which organisations operate is increasing fast and requires organisations to continuously adapt to this changes in order to create added value and remain relevant to their customers.

The impact of this can be seen in several ways:

  1. New, high performing companies challenge the traditional leaders and often move fast to “star” positions in a few years, leaving the formal leaders behind. On the other hand, companies that are believed to have a “sustainable competitive advantage” and enjoyed a leading position often appear to be no longer relevant in just a few years 1.
  2. The traditional “MBA style” management techniques still focus on improving efficiency with an organisational focus (reporting lines, outsourcing, and ICT applications) 2, while largely ignoring the human factors (team orientation, customer orientation, and level of personal involvement) as well as those factors which give people a sense of purpose and provide them with the right balance. Since these factors are not taken sufficiently into consideration, efforts to induce change often fail, leading to resistance. Also, middle management often resists change as they fear the possible reduction of hierarchical layers 3.
  3. The traditional success factors do not seem to work anymore. Being large is no longer a guarantee for stability. People working in well-structured organisations appear to resist change, while more chaotic companies function without hierarchical layers and adapt to a changing environment without instructions from “the top” 4.

Executives are fully aware that a wave of new organisations realise Peak Performance, adapt to new challenges very fast, and create market after market. They are also aware that this Peak Performance is driven by highly motivated employees, who are empowered to respond to new situations, and are, more frequent than other companies, in a state of “flow”. However, they are not trained how to realise this in their own organisations and return to traditional management techniques once efforts to change mentality and increase motivation have failed. What is lacking here is the ability to combine new ways of thinking with the decisiveness to translate those ideas into reality.