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Darwin and Digital Platforms

Elaina Shekhter


For any serious student of evolution, Charles Darwin's theory explains not only biological laws relating to how organisms develop through natural selection and small variations, but also how the order of any number of organic and non-organic systems can be viewed.

Our work with Digital Platforms has led my thinking into this same evolutionary direction - looking to identify how individual organizations and groups of organizations can come into being and increase their ability to compete, survive, and thrive.

Interestingly, it wasn't until we had wide acceptance of digital and cloud technologies that we could identify the current market volatility for what it was - a real evolutionary wave that would turn certain organizations into a totally new species (think sharing economy, new generation marketplaces, etc.). Or, simply be pressed out of existence (as is the case for any number of significant brands made less relevant through what could only be viewed as a mass extinction). In effect, no digital platforms = no mass extinction!

The latest turmoil in the retail world is further evidence of both extinction and formation happening simultaneously.The announcement by Amazon of the addition of 100+ thousand jobs and some rather frightening AI was set against the background of the continuing contraction of traditional brick and mortar business for hallmark brands like Macy's, and the complete turn towards digital-only presence for brands like the Limited.

As software engineers, we had to determine whether we should continue to focus on engineering the best quality software in the world, or  the more existential crisis unfolding in front of us, putting the entire future of some businesses as we know them up for the ultimate question of survival.

We concluded that more would be required from people and companies whose primary characteristic was growth through technology - and that more would necessarily include an expanded set of abilities with new personal and organizational DNA. For us, the question became not only what we want to do, but who and what we want to become.And this set us on a path of becoming what I hope is a 'new breed of service provider' - one for whom the critical activities of thinking, designing, engineering, and optimizing combine seamlessly and create our new identity as Digital Orchestrators.

As newly minted Digital Orchestrators, we might play the role of superhero in the crisis that is Digital Transformation for most organizations. And, as a colleague recently pointed out, our primary concern must be humanizing all of this digital change. As Digital Orchestrators, we will use our natural technical prowess to quickly assess the threats and identify opportunities. As newly integrated Thinkers and Optimizers, we would tackle questions of disruption - to not only see the problems on the surface, but to infer what deeper waves of crisis these surface ripples might indicate. Beyond insights, strategies, and platforms, we should also be able to offer an expanded set of capabilities that include running parts of an organization in a continual and agile optimization loop. This latter part is, in itself, a Darwinian inflection point as it represents the oppor-threat of automation, which in my opinion, is really the biggest elephant in the room.

This direction feels at once familiar and new to me, and as we navigate through continued change in every way conceivable, I'm hoping that Darwin smiles upon us and welcomes us as a new species into his wonderful view of the world as described by the man himself --

“Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” 

―  Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

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