Picture dusk falling over a bustling city. Horse hooves clop on cobblestone streets, and men carrying ladders make their way from lamppost to lamppost, delivering light and safety to the night. At dawn, each man returns along his route to snuff out the flames. Society once relied on lamplighters to brighten the world, an essential job in growing cities. But when electricity hit the streets, their vital role was extinguished virtually overnight.
In a business landscape where there are no sure things and technology can overhaul the way we live in approximately a nanosecond, it's impossible to maintain a successful business model without flexibility and agility.
Palm Inc. didn't believe Apple could create a better product. Countless Internet startups imploded when the tech bubble burst. Former giants including Blockbuster, Best Buy, even the publishing industry are gasping for air and desperately trying new tactics to stay afloat. All the while, long shot ideas are leveraging the same technology that's bringing giants to their knees and building unlikely business empires.
In changing environments, evolution is the only way not just to stay alive, but to come out of the cave on top and thrive. These five commandments of evolution will keep your company on its toes.
1. Challenge assumptions by encouraging dissent from your team.
What makes the "smartest guy in the room" so smart? Not assuming it's you, listen to everyone else in the room first. As a leader in your business, you're constantly working in pursuit of a powerful dream and a driving vision. However, with so much on your mind, it's important to open your eyes to the viewpoints of other smart people who can point out pitfalls, roadblocks and smoother paths. Encourage people to disagree with you. Listening to opposing ideas will only help refine your plans.
2. Hire the best people you can find.
Before you can listen to great ideas and advice, you have to trust your team. And to trust your team, you have to be willing to invest in the best. Don't settle for a warm body just because you're desperate. Any money or time you save by hiring someone mediocre will cost you big in the long run -- it could eventually be the difference between success and failure.
3. Don't just validate what's good. Always look for weak spots.
It's natural to celebrate what we've accomplished, and we want investors to feel satisfied. However, resting on past success is the quickest way to dissolve it. Operating in a changing environment means your business will constantly develop new vulnerabilities. Would you sail a wooden ship across an ocean five times in a row without checking for holes or looking into upgraded materials? The Titanic wasn't impervious to sudden disaster, and neither is your company. Don't get lost in la-la land because you built a beautiful boat and miss the iceberg straight ahead.
4. Evolution doesn't have to be painful.
No business model can last forever, but an unending cycle of adaptation doesn't need to be negative. Consider the development style of Porsche, the standard of automotive luxury and design. They slowly alter cars over time with a tweak here and the gentle curve of a fresh line there. If you've built a classic service or product that works, you don't have to destroy and overhaul it every five minutes. Evolve at a pace that allows you to test and grow appropriately.
5. Innovation is essential. Lead, follow, or get out of the way.
Evolution isn't just about you. It's also about what everyone around you is doing, including larger fish with more resources poised to out-develop you, smaller fish trying to float in your wake, and stalking sharks sniffing for the first sign of blood. Remaining mindful of how others are evolving is one of the best ways to mature. See what others are doing and do it better. Keep investing in the sharpest innovators you can find so you can flourish.
Evolution can sound like a feral fight between life and death, but the other side of the adaptation coin is downright beautiful. Creativity and invention are evolution in its purest forms, so don't let change get you down. Allow it to fuel and inspire.