When the ground beneath your feet is shifting, do you stand still or leap forward?

Has there ever been a time when the ground on which an organization stands is safe, still and undisturbed?

Person walking through ice tunnel coming out into the light

In the natural world, standing still is incredibly rare; there are very few animals that haven’t evolved over the last few million years. One example is the platypus, which has remained virtually unchanged or unevolved for more than two million years. Biologists are not certain why this might be, but a perfect environment and lack of competition are very likely to be major contributory factors.

“A perfect environment and lack of competition” – how rare for businesses to encounter this! 

With the exception of domestic monopolies, or essential public services suppliers, the threat, worry and strategizing to adapt to changing market conditions is a fundamental daily reality for virtually every organization. That means standing still isn’t an option – progress is unstoppable. What successful business ever stood still? 

So organizations are faced with a choice if they want to avoid becoming the equivalent of a platypus. They can behave like an ostrich, burying their heads in the sand and pretending that disruption will not affect them. Or they can start running toward a headlong jump that will carry them away from danger and into a position of greater strength.

And yet, to leap could be to plunge into the unknown – and what is there to recommend that? Organizations can scarcely afford to take risks that involve investing significant sums in a new venture or service offering – although this is the very nature of start-ups. 

So is there a way for established businesses, whatever their size, to adopt and practice operations that mimic the maverick approach of these new competitors? There is: it involves apportioning a relatively small part of budget to exploring the potential of new ideas. This can be done via acquisitions, or partnerships and joint ventures – the latter is an option that EY has been exploring, both for clients and internally. Establishing incubators for organizations provides a safe space to explore evolutions and innovations without having to commit to a full-scale leap.

Similarly, by teaming up with other organizations which can provide skills and services that are underdeveloped internally provides a great opportunity to fast-track the evolutionary path, without experiencing the growing pains of internal change. EY is teaming with companies such as IBM, LinkedIn and Microsoft to improve client offerings in areas such as data analytics, security and digital enterprise. And we are looking for new alliances, with organizations big and small, all the time. 

Yet there is a third way to respond to seismic shifts underfoot in the marketplace, and it looks very much like standing still – but in fact it is a broadening of the stance. 

It involves organizations identifying their core product or service and then figuring out how to innovate it to respond to the shifting ground, effectively futureproofing it by making it sustainable. Having done this, organizations then need to identify the people and partnerships that will enable them to keep innovating in an even broader sense, continually delivering on the customer proposition.

Broadening the stance means focusing on core business: continually identifying opportunities for performance improvement and for new investment in iterative improvements to operations. Amid the waves of disruption that compel organizations to change and evolve – whether they’re from IoT or servitization, globalization or automation - it means bolstering confidence and capabilities in what you already do so well.  

It’s about creating the platypus’ “perfect environment” and lack of competition within your own organization, to find a safer shore, a firmer foothold or a more stable jumping platform, within the turmoil of the competitive marketplace.

So, when the ground beneath your feet is shifting, do you stand still or leap forward?
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