“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way— in short, the period was so far like the present period…”

The Great Extinction

These words are the opening lines of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, published in 1859, about events set in the period of the French Revolution, in the 18th Century. If I didn’t tell you that, and you had never read Dickens’ work, you might be inclined to think I was talking about the period in which we are currently living in.

That it is an era of constant change, brought about by rapidly evolving technology, few people have doubts. On the other hand, most executives, who are responsible for strategic decisions and business operations, seem to be in constant denial when it comes to the impact of these changes on their business.

Accustomed to staying within their comfort zone and using what are considered proven management practices for decades, these executives are essentially burying their heads in the sand and waiting for this “fad” of change to blow over. It’s interesting how often they can come up with sales speeches that use these very same changes that they believe they are immune to, as a lever to try to convince customers to buy new products and services from their companies.

Well, I have bad news for these people. The changes are not a fad, they are simply the new normal. And there is more, the changes will continue to accelerate, with the exponential evolution of the technology that drives them. Burying their head in the sand will not make them go away and will not protect the company for which they work from their consequences.

“There isn’t going to be a digital transformation for everyone. In the coming decades we will see a great extinction of companies. ”
– Alexandro Strack (2018)

Dinosaur Rock

To be able not only to survive but thrive in the 21st Century, companies need to be prepared to adapt continuously. For this to happen, there needs to be a change of mindset towards further exploration and experimentation. It is important to understand that what has brought the company up to this point will not necessarily be what will carry it forward into the future.

It is essential to consider propositions for the future, as they are presented, with exemption. I’ve seen many companies sticking to positions just because of sentimentality towards a product or resistance to accepting that reality has changed significantly and that therefore what once made sense might not make anymore.

Many companies have started Digital Transformation programs. In many cases, the people involved have no idea of what is really needed to transform a company and have just been thrust into that position. In other cases, the initiative is more of a “just for show” thing than an actual attempt to transform something. What there is no lack of are companies redecorating offices in order to be perceived as being more “modern” or as being “cooler” and thus try to attract new talent. When the initial impression caused by the beautiful facilities and seemingly nice working environment fades, these talents realize that they are in a company with outdated management practices and with little understanding of what is really happening in the world around them. The consequence? The best people leave and losing these talents may be a shortcut on the path to irrelevance, for these companies.

The harsh reality is that there won’t be a digital transformation for everyone. Some companies will fall short in their attempts. Some will turn the wrong way. Others, still, won’t even see the stampede that runs them over as they are trampled by new entrants into their market, they never saw coming.

In the coming decades we will see many of these companies fail in a terminal way. Some will undergo spectacular crashes while others will simply begin a slow process of shrinking towards irrelevance until they finally disappear, without anyone realizing it. One day someone will ask:

“What about that company… you know! The one which we used to buy those things every year…”

They will receive a correspondingly vague response:

“Don’t really know. I’ve never heard from them, again.”

This line of conversation will then fade away, and will soon be forgotten, as will the company of which they spoke.

Discussion on digital transformation

Figure 2 – Discussion on digital transformation on your average company.

It will be a time when new and more adaptable companies will progressively take over the spaces currently occupied by old companies that have not been able to make the transition needed to become agile enough to continue to be part of the endless game of business. This mass extinction of companies will not be a bad thing for society, although it will definitely not be good for those who work for them, at least at first. As in nature, those that are the more adaptable will come in and take the place of those who were stuck in the past and have not been able to adapt to the new environment in which they are inserted.

In the future, we will remember this period as The Great Extinction of the early 21st Century.

The question now is: Where are you going to be?

Walking blindly towards extinction in a company that does not understand what is happening? Leading the transformation that will save your business? Or perhaps, working at or even creating one of the new companies that will cause the extinction of the old dinosaurs?

The future is open and still unwritten, but each of us needs to be responsible for doing their part to remain relevant and to keep our businesses relevant. Don’t just stand still, thinking that transformative actions can come only from others.

Be the meteor and not a dinosaur.

This piece is a revised and extended version of an article originally published in Portuguese at www.mundoexponencial.com. – A Grande Extinção.