The speed of change: 4 waves of digital acceleration

Change and evolution are nothing new. Humanity is subject to permanent change: every cell, every person, everything around us, every part of the universe is changing and evolving. This has been the case since the big bang and it will go on forever. So why is digital change so scary? Why is it so difficult to manage?

The speed of change

The explanation is probably that humans can only deal with a certain amount of change within a general framework. This gives us the overall impression that things remain relatively stable. People change, companies change, industries change, political systems change, but until now, this change always happened at a speed that was mostly slow enough to adapt. Digital is increasing and speeding up the amount of change we have to deal with. The explanation for this can be found in the four waves of emancipation.

The analogue world was characterized by physical boundaries which, by definition, made it difficult to introduce change. A retail company that wanted to compete with another player in a certain market, would have to open up stores (and thus find good locations), attract people, build physical logistics and distribution, build up an inventory and so on. This made it very expensive and complex to enter a market as a new player. It was the same case for so many other activities, like creating a new newspaper, a TV-station, a record company, etc. If you wanted to succeed, you needed the power to enter the physical world. Only a select number of wealthy organizations had this kind of power.

  1. The first wave of emancipation (the rise of digital) made it much easier to create and produce (mainly digital) products and/or services.
  2. The second wave (the Internet) led to the disappearance of physical borders and timezones, enabling the potential for any smart solution to become a worldwide success. Yet as many experienced during the first decade of the Internet, being globally available was no guarantee for success. Most new initiatives never made a blip on the global radar and died once the ventures ran out of money.
  3. The third wave (social media) changed the ownership of the distribution of headlines and opinions. Suddenly we could all become gatekeepers of interesting stuff. Social media distribution of new ideas and start-ups paved the way for a whole new generation of mean-and-lean companies that found international recognition, distribution or even funding.
  4. The fourth wave (mobile) is accelerating everything even more. It reduces the time between impulse and response from hours or even days to minutes or seconds. The moment something good (or bad) happens, it starts spreading around the world instantly.

The combination of all of these waves of emancipation has created new ways of thinking about the world. We have evolved from a situation in which scarcity dominated market position and business models (keeping prices artificially high) towards a model of abundance. We now have a huge amount of players offering interesting, similar solutions. They are all potentially competing on a global scale, without the traditional geographical protection from the past. This of course has a disruptive impact on product development (always in beta), pricing (the rise of freemium), go-to-market and so on.

To say it in the words of Forrester Research: “digital product disruption is better, stronger, faster”.
In one of their 2011 reports (and they are now publishing more and more on digital disruption), they state the following:

Digital product disruption

If you’re interested in what the power of digital disruption means for your company, have a look at our book on Digital Transformation. It is a model to help you master digital disruption.

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