Does Your Business Need an Evolution or a Revolution?

Many business owners find themselves hitting a wall or a block of some kind at some point along their entrepreneurial journey. In a case such as this, most entrepreneurs agree that a change needs to be made. After all, to repeat the same action over and over again and expect different results is the definition of insanity. Those who miss this point normally end up out of business. But those that realize that a change must be made also need to think about what kind of change should be made.

As far as I see it, there are two types of ideas/changes: evolutionary ones and revolutionary ones. Evolution is defined as “a process of gradual, peaceful, and progressive change.” Revolution is defined as “a sudden, complete or marked change.” (Both words are as defined by Dictionary.Com.) Though the words only differ by one letter, the definitions are quite juxtaposed by the words ‘gradual’ and ‘sudden.’ When you come to a business impasse, you must decide whether it would be better to slowly improve and work on what you currently have or to take an entirely new approach with an immediate change.

The gradual changes of evolution can definitely be a good thing; it allows people time that they need to improve upon an idea and make it better than it was before (perhaps multiple times). This gives those involved the advantage of knowing their product, person or problem and the ability to continue to improve upon what they already know. However, the main inadequacy with evolution is the slow pace. Many modern businesses don’t or won’t have time for multiple improvement cycles – they want the results yesterday. Many companies are more than willing to take the leap towards a revolutionary idea than to wait around patiently for an evolution to come full circle.

The immediate changes that occur because of a revolution can be very beneficial. Most of the best revolutionary (or disruptive) ideas give you an extreme advantage over your competitor. You can move into unknown territory with an entirely new set of ideas or thinking and leave your competition in the dust. But keep in mind that even though revolutions are the fastest ways to move forward, the outcome of that revolution is very dependent on the quality of the idea. Revolutions can be risky – or even outright dangerous. But, great revolutionary ideas do move us forward to better places.

What do your experiences say about this? Are you for evolutions or revolutions?

8 replies
  1. Matt Heinz
    Matt Heinz says:

    Disruptive start-ups, by definition, are doing something completely different.  They’re revolutionary by rule.  They’re going to make quick enemies, stumble around a lot, and eventually a few of them will latch onto something that works.  In this context, revolutionary thinking is a requirement.

    But to execute on a revolutionary idea, you don’t always need revolutionary execution.  Sometimes traditional processes and tactics can most efficiently bring a revolutionary idea to life.

    And for any business (new or established) the key to sustained innovation and growth is typically more evolutionary.  There are exceptions, but a consistent eye towards what the customer wants and needs will more often than not lead to incremental, evolutionary changes that keep a business on the forefront and growing.

    Evolution may not sound as sexy, but it’s what works most often.

    Highly encourage a quick read of “Renovate Before You Innovate” by Sergio Zyman to pick up more on this topic.

    Reply
    • Alyssa Magnotti
      Alyssa Magnotti says:

      All of what you said makes perfect sense! I definitely agree that companies that are based on revolutionary ideas still benefit from evolutionary processes and practices.

      I love that you point out that “a consistent eye towards what the customer wants and needs” is something that is extremely important as far as all changes go. Whether a company wants to be revolutionary or evolutionary – they must do the thing that will satisfy their market. :] Also, great book recommendation, I will have to check it out. 

      Have you worked with any companies that made a revolutionary change and prospered from it?

      Reply
    • Peter Chee
      Peter Chee says:

      Matt, I like what you’re talking about regarding a consistent eye towards the customer. I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m sure you’ve heard of the 70/20/10 rule. I think it’s something like this:

      70% of time do what has been working.20% of time should be improving what you’re doing.10% of time should be implementing “revolutionary” ideas.

      Would you agree that this is a smart approach?

      Reply
      • Matt Heinz
        Matt Heinz says:

        That’s a great breakdown of where to spend time, as long as you don’t take it too literally. Completely agree the the vast majority of time should be spent on execution, and specifically on what you know works. It’s critical that you continue to measure that efficacy, however, to know when it’s time to focus more intently on improvement.

        For new companies in new markets, either trying something disruptive or addressing a brand-new challenge, this rule doesn’t work at all. By definition, a higher percentage of time is on conceiving and testing brand-new ideas. The failure rate is higher, the risks are higher, but the rewards are there for those who have the persistence and discpline to discover, document and scale what’s really working.

  2. Mike Jensen
    Mike Jensen says:

    I know you didnt say this, but an important note, is that you dont have to be one or the other.  A mixed approach, based on the challenge/opportunity, is a viable strategy.  Take the time to consider all the information available to you, but then make the decision and go for it.  At the same time, if you do have a revolutionary idea, then take the time to think it through and have a solid execution plan.

    Reply
    • Alyssa Magnotti
      Alyssa Magnotti says:

      This is a great point, Mike! I am in 100% agreement with you! I think it is definitely smart to look at mixing the two approaches. Matt and Peter have been discussing the percentage points (below) on what percentage of time should be spend on revolutionary changes vs. evolutionary ones. Do you think that there is a “rule of thumb” to go by?

      Reply
  3. Peter Chee
    Peter Chee says:

    Alyssa, this is a really good post.

    When I hear the word evolution, I think of things changing at a glacial pace. In a recession, if your business is evolutionary you might have negative growth and zero growth if you are lucky.

    Because of your leadership on this team we’ve been able to keep growing and even be named as PSBJ Eastside’s Fastest Growing Companies. I certainly don’t think we’d be on this list if we had we been doing things at an evolutionary growth path. Would you agree?

    There are so many things that impact whether your company takes an evolutionary or revolutionary approach. The company and culture of takes on the persona of the leadership. If the leadership is adverse to change and stuck in the status quo there’s absolutely no way you’re going to see revolutionary change.

    I was recently with 64 other CEO’s and when I heard about their revolutionary changes that they made it was absolutely on the radical side as at least half of those companies fired 50% of their staff in order to position themselves to execute their revolutionary ideas. That’s massive disruption for a company but companies do that because they have crazy ideas that they need to execute and they either need to get rid of employees that don’t agree with the new way or they have to get new employees with the skills to execute those ideas.

    I think Mike is absolutely correct that a mixed approach is best. I see things as being cyclical, like seasons. Following a revolutionary idea or change I think there needs to be a period of evolutionary change. I really like what you wrote “The gradual changes of evolution can definitely be a good thing; it
    allows people time that they need to improve upon an idea and make it
    better than it was before”. That requires patience from both the leadership and the employees to work through those growth pains.

    Reply
    • Alyssa Magnotti
      Alyssa Magnotti says:

      I think at thinkspace that we have certainly done a mix of both evolutionary and revolutionary changes. There have definitely been shifts within the company that are, without question, revolutionary. But, I also think that we have done quite a few evolutionary shifts to improve upon what we have already done. I think we actually have a pretty good balance and I believe that that balance has definitely contributed to our growth. :]  

      Reply

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