We live in a world that is changing rapidly. It’s a reality that we all recognize and must accept. Driven by rapid advances in technology, we’re living in a world in which information is at our fingertips 24/7, we’re constantly connected to the world around us, and a task that once took hours or days can be done with a push of a button.
But the speed of change also means the lifespan of many products—and even companies—has become much shorter. Consider the changes in the way music is packaged and delivered. If you’re close to my age, you can clearly remember vinyl albums and 45s. Then came the advent of the cassette tape, followed by CDs. With each advancement came a new delivery method for the music. When the MP3 player hit the market, you could just download the music right onto the device. Today, the MP3 player is obsolete, as most people download music onto their phone or stream it live to their mobile device. Each of those advancements disrupted established companies and forced them to adapt or die.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”—Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin wasn’t talking about companies or employees when he made that statement, but he could have been. Some of the mightiest of companies haven’t survived, not because the companies weren’t filled with smart, capable people but because they didn’t anticipate and respond to change quickly enough and didn’t look to disrupt their own products and their market-leading positions with innovative new ideas. They got comfortable.
As a business leader, you have a lot on your plate. But you can’t lose sight of the speed at which change occurs. You must evolve or else risk your company’s obsolescence. That means two things. First, you must constantly look to innovate. You can’t grow comfortable with the status quo. You must believe the saying, “Here today, gone tomorrow.” What we’re doing today WILL be disrupted. It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. You’re better off disrupting your own products and services than having someone else do it.
Second, you need to invest in constantly training and retraining your people. There are new tools developed every day that help them do their jobs better, faster, and easier. But people have to be trained on how to use those tools in order to keep their skills relevant. New technologies require new knowledge. Employees need to be retrained to keep pace with our rapidly changing world. If you want to compete in the future, you need employees who understand how their world is changing and how to adapt with it. Darwin’s quote applies again. The employees most responsive to change are most likely to survive. It’s your job to convince them that they must change.
For most leaders, that second point is the more difficult one. Not because they’re unwilling to train or retrain people but because people are, well, people. Change is hard for us. We like to stick to what we know. Admitting that our skills are becoming obsolete is scary. Coming to terms with the fact that our way of doing things will no longer keep us competitive is hard. We cling to what we’re comfortable with, and the rapid speed of change isn’t comfortable.
But what we all must realize is that if we don’t change—if we don’t adapt—the likelihood that we will survive is pretty low. Whether it’s a company or an individual employee, we all need to accept change and the speed at which it occurs today. If we don’t, we risk extinction.