Dr Zara Whysall, Research & Impact Director at Kiddy & Partners May 2 2023

Rapid Evolution - driving business growth ahead of the curve

This blog defines rapid evolution, a methodology which can help you to ensure business growth faster and further than others in your market.

Rapid business growth and transformation are essential for any organisation to thrive in a VUCA context. Unfortunately, only a few companies manage to achieve it. The truth is, most successful companies get stuck.

Analysis of companies in the Fortune 100 over 50 years reveals that 87% of these companies later stalled, on average losing 74% of their market share. What's more, if management can't turn a company around within a few years, the odds are against it ever seeing healthy business growth again. But there's good news. The majority of the reasons for organisations getting stuck are under leaders' control.

Typically, only 9% of leaders say that their employees' attitude and behaviours are changing at the rate they would hope. During the pandemic, though, many achieved unimaginable growth and transformation. The UK National Health Service, for example, took "two-and-a-bit weeks to achieve more than we have achieved in 20 years in adopting new technology" according to Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners. So if we're capable of rapid transformation, why is it so often hard to achieve?

Unfortunately, the human brain has a predisposed preference for the status quo. This is because change is tiring; it requires more effort, energy and 'headspace.' So our brains are wired, through cognitive biases such as the sunk costs fallacy or loss aversion, to constantly downplay the need for change. We tend to be wary of change, and when we detect change is afoot, we automatically and subconsciously assess whether it presents a threat or an opportunity. More often than not, organisational change often affects one or more of the key domains likely to trigger a threat response:

  • Status - our importance relative to others
  • Certainty - our ability to predict what will happen
  • Autonomy - our sense of control over events
  • Relatedness - our ability to connect with others
  • Fairness - our need to feel things are fair and just

So it's unsurprising that we tend to avoid change, as it feels threatening. But unfortunately, the environment has evolved faster than our inbuilt instincts. Historically, change has brought with it increased risk, since it involves exploring unfamiliar territory. But today, the pace of change in the external environment means that not changing - or changing too little, too late - is a risk in itself. 

To stay ahead of the curve, change must become not just what we do occasionally, but who we are and how we operate - on a daily basis. The principles that keep us agile and ever evolving must be embedded into our mindsets and behaviours, as business as usual.

Rapid Evolution is a phenomenon identified in evolutionary biology, where organisms have developed the ability to evolve much more rapidly and significantly than expected. for example how wolves in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone have found a way to survive radiation. 

In the business context, Rapid Evolution describes the leadership of rapid yet sustained business growth or transformation, enabling an organisation to progress further and faster than others in their sector. Leaders who manage to achieve this aren't just more effective at driving performance through setting challenging goals or working harder. They have a distinctly different mindset and approach, which, when driven throughout the organisation, sets them apart.

Over the coming weeks we'll be outlining the key principles of rapid evolution, and highlighting the five tensions that need to be balanced in order for your organisation to achieve it. Keep an eye out for our blogs to learn more, and we'll soon be announcing a webinar and full length eBook with actionable tips to help you on your journey to rapid evolution.


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