Book review – Digital Darwinism: survival of the fittest in the age of business disruption

An influential book by Tom Goodwin, head of innovation at Zenith Media in the US, traces the history of digital revolution and distills invaluable ideas on what companies need to do to survive and thrive through the ongoing digital wave
by Dr Jonah Kangogo MCSI, PhD

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“Companies now need to look further ahead, to try to not just be agile, but predictive, to be comfortable being uncomfortable, and to be constantly finding ways to change the core essence of what they are”

Digital Darwinism, p.18

We live in an age of breathtaking discontinuous change with the business world being ‘remade’ every hour. Tom Goodwin’s book is a timely inclusion to the guidance available for business leaders and scholars. It details the nature of changes spawned by digitisation and provides practical guidance on the measures that businesses could take in order to survive and optimise their productivity.

The choice of the title ‘Digital Darwinism’ is apt and draws an inescapable comparison with the timeless Origin of Species by Charles Darwin in 1859. The theory of evolution may not enjoy global acceptance due to cultural orientation and religious belief, however, to paraphrase Darwin, it is those who are most adaptable to change who survive. Businesses that fail to adapt and change ultimately suffer the fate of the dodo – a large flightless bird, indigenous to the island of Mauritius, that became extinct due to its failure to change and adapt to the evolving environmental and other existential conditions.

The book perceives the concept of digital Darwinism from the perspective that, like any species, companies are designed to improve slowly over time, to optimise, to breed selectively, to become better via rather slow but consistent and well-proven evolution. It outlines three phases of technology: the pre-technology environment; the new technology; and making sense of the new technology. These phases characterise the four industrial revolutions, the fourth of which is the current digital and connected age. The author’s clarion call to businesses is to “wake up, get excited and change!” (p.65) and take full advantage of the post-digital age. Ride the wave of digital Darwinism by making things simple, building processes around possibilities and not around the past, and by building data literacy.    Businesses that fail to adapt and change ultimately suffer the fate of the dodo

Digital Darwinism makes important statements about the focus of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – it should be about empathy and structured around people. As businesses implement the Darwinian changes, they should have an unblinking focus on people. This is a reminder of Karl Marx’s grouse with the European industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, whose key focus was profit optimisation. Marx was a global revolutionary who perceived industrialisation as reducing workers to mere expendable cogs in the economic enterprise due to the cold ‘non-people’ focus. Digital Darwinism propounds digital changes firmly rooted in optimising company and human welfare – precluding the risks pointed out by Marx.

The book makes logical predictions about the fate of companies depending on their reaction to the digital revolution, which may challenge captains of industry to ask troubling but relevant questions about the present and future survival of their companies. It opens up broad vistas about new possibilities offered by the digital revolution.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected global supply chains and forced companies to explore new ways of deepening their digitisation efforts. Complying with myriad governmental measures such as social distancing and curfews calls for innovative ways of service delivery. Digital Darwinism offers practical insights for organisations to navigate their way through adoption of new digital platforms and ways of doing things. It can help executives conceive and implement strategies for navigating the pandemic maze.

Views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the views of the CISI.
Published: 13 May 2020
  • Fintech
  • Community
  • Darwin
  • Covid-19
  • digital skills
  • digitalisation
  • digitisation

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