Digital Darwinism is the application of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution to the digital economy, where an organization’s success or failure to adopt technology directly affects its survival as a business.
The phrase was coined by Evan I. Schwartz in 1999 in reference to an era where technology and society are evolving faster than businesses can naturally adapt. Today the phrase has been popularized by digital analyst Brian Solis. In 2011, Solis wrote in the Washington Post:
Digital Darwinism is the evolution of consumer behavior when society and technology evolve faster than some companies’ ability to adapt. The point of natural selection is that only some businesses will survive.
Why Digital Darwinism?
The accelerating adoption of digital technology poses challenges to traditional business models. Companies can hold onto outdated technology or business models in an attempt to hold down costs, but the speed of the digital revolution can make waiting equivalent to going extinct.
Some of the most important technologies that see rapid digital adoption or the consequences of failing to do so include: AI, big data, cloud, cybersecurity, digital service delivery, educational, mobile, payment systems, and social media.
Consumer Behavior and Digital Darwinism
With constantly evolving technology, businesses compete for customers who expect the best in innovation. Downtime, bugs, and more that turn off consumers directly affect a businesses’ bottom line when customers fail to return or use the product or service again. When looked at through a consumer-centric lens, digital Darwinism is also an organization’s failure to adapt to their customer’s demand.
Digital Darwinism and Digital Transformation
Digital Darwinism and digital transformation are mentioned often together, but they are not the same. Both concepts work together to describe the decision-making process and result of adopting technology or not.
- Digital transformation refers to the process of adopting technological advances.
- Digital Darwinism refers to the consequences of not adapting to technological advances.
For example, Blockbuster was once a multinational movie rental franchise. As the internet boomed with new opportunities, Blockbuster’s digital transformation would be a commitment to offering products to customers online and utilizing the newest technology to enhance their service. However, because Blockbuster didn’t commit to this process, the organization fell behind while competitors like Netflix and Hulu took the reigns. Digital Darwinism is the consequence of Blockbuster’s inaction.
Digital Darwinism Case Studies
Founded in 1937, Polaroid was a top provider of instant film cameras throughout the 20th century. As digital camera technology gained popularity in the 1990s, Polaroid was in the mix of competing providers. As early as 1989, 42% of Polaroid’s R&D budget went towards digital imaging.
Despite adapting to the times, Polaroid believed customers would always want a hard-copy print and therefore didn’t capitalize on the growing electronic imaging segment. Though offshoots have seen a success owed to nostalgic demand years later, Polaroid filed for bankruptcy in 2001.
For almost forty years, the Borders Group operated hundreds of stores that sold CDs, calendars, magazines, board games, and most notably, books. At the turn of the century, Borders continued to grow and expand internationally to Canada, United Kingdom, and Asia Pacific. With the 2000s came the paperless revolution and the boom of online book sales via Amazon.
While competitor Barnes & Noble invested in online sales, Borders expanded their physical footprint, refurbished stores, and least helpful of all, outsourced online book sales to another market competitor, Amazon. Failing to attract enough business, Borders filed for bankruptcy in 2011.
- IT Business Edge: The Key to Digital Transformation
- CIO Insight: Viewing IT as a Profitable Business Unit
- WIRED: Digital Darwinism: How Disruptive Technology Is Changing Business for Good
- Washington Post: Digital Darwinism and why brands die
- McKinsey: Brand success in an era of Digital Darwinism
- NPR: Why Borders Failed While Barnes & Noble Survived