What does business evolution mean? We often use it as another word for business progress, to the extent that the terms become interchangeable.
We think of businesses evolving as they expand. Or we refer to brands evolving as they reposition or redefine themselves.
But evolution isn’t the same thing as progress at all. Consider these two developments:
- Covid-19, and
- Climate change.
Neither of them is progressive, but both represent evolutionary change. We’ve grown used to the idea that there’s something inevitable about the progress of humanity, but these things tell us otherwise.
As we emerge blinking into the light from under the pandemic’s pervasive shadow, we’d do well to ask ourselves how much in charge of our own destiny we really are?
Business Evolution Doesn’t Mean Progress
The popular misconception is that evolution results in progress. There’s the famous image by Rudolph Zallinger, the March of Progress, that shows a line of six figures, beginning with an ape and ending with modern man.
But what is one of the most famous scientific images of all time is also misleading. It’s a graphic representation of the theory of orthogenesis. This holds that there is a straight line of progress, from one thing to the next, in the direction of a fixed goal.
This is an appealing, even comforting, notion. However, it ignores the randomness in evolution.
In natural selection, some organisms will adapt well enough to survive in their environment, but evolution doesn’t make them perfectly in tune with their habitats. Some develop survival traits, but others barely evolve at all. The shark, for example, has barely evolved at all.
Also, traits that are beneficial in certain situations will be less so in others, and in any case, the whole history of evolution shows that plenty of environments change, leaving organisms ill-equipped to survive in them. That’s what happened to the dinosaurs.
Evolution isn’t one giant progressive ladder with humans occupying the top position.
Why Evolution Matters in Business
The thing about evolution is that you can’t ignore it. If you run your own enterprise, then things are very likely to change over time. Some of these will be in response to changing circumstances, over which you have no control.
This is a key point about evolution: it’ll happen anyway, just as, over time, changes to natural habitats take place. In business, trading conditions will change. Emerging technology will supersede established processes. New competitors enter the marketplace. Companies stage mergers and takeovers. The economy suffers a hit, the economy bounces back.
What should your reaction to these changes be?
In evolutionary terms, you adapt to survive. But this can involve different changes to the ones you might otherwise plan on making. There will be circumstances that are out of your control, but which you have to respond to.
We’ve seen this during the pandemic, where many restaurants have offered takeaway services for the first time, or with businesses that have made the switch to remote working.
Evolution or Progression?
No one wants to be in a situation where all their moves are reactive, putting their enterprise entirely at the mercy of external forces.
It’s important to exercise some sense of control over your business. This is about striking a balance, between accepting that certain things are out of your control and acting strategically where you can.
Maintaining this balance does allow you to progress, and to take your business in directions of your choosing, but you’ve got to be rational and realistic about it.
Many of us find that businesses can evolve and progress at the same time, and that evolution can offer opportunities we may not have considered or planned for.
Spontaneity and serendipity are underrated in business circles, where strategy, planning and progressive transformation frequently occupy discussions.
How to Position Yourself
When it comes to positioning your brand and your business offering in the marketplace, evolution and progression can act as opposing polarities, tugging you in different directions.
Evolutionary pressures may push you towards one path, while a drive towards growth and positive transformation point in another direction entirely.
The risk is you then send out contradictory messages to your audience.
You have to find a way of bridging the gap between what you’re having to do and what you want to achieve. You can’t simply overcome this by overstating your importance or overselling your capabilities.
People are quick to spot bullshit. If you’re going to position yourself properly, you need to come across as believable. An important aspect of this is to use empathy.
If evolutionary pressures are affecting your business, they’re likely to be doing the same to your prospective customers. We’ve all got pain points. By communicating to people on a level that engages with them, what you have to contribute will resonate with them.
Consider the misleading evolutionary ladder I mentioned earlier. Will positioning your business at the top of it make you more or less appealing to your audience?
The saying goes that everyone loves a winner, but not if it makes your audience feel excluded.
Just as you need to stay grounded in how you plan and react for the benefit of your own business, so you should position yourself as approachable and relatable to others.
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