November 24th marks the 160th anniversary of the publishing of Charles Darwin’s world changing treatise, On the Origin of the Species. Few books have so profoundly shaped human thinking over the last century and a half.
Darwin’s work has permeated so many aspects of civilization since its release – from the biological sciences to sociology to governmental policy. Of course, you can include the world of business in this conversation too.
That said, it’s not just about “survival of the fittest” when it comes to Darwin’s implications on the business world. In fact, Darwin didn’t use that phrase in his first four editions of the book… it came from a man by the name of Herbert Spencer who coined it upon a reading of On the Origin of the Species.
In many ways, the association of that phrase with Darwin’s work often overshadows and confuses some really important points in his magnum opus that are often overlooked when it comes to business application.
Let’s start with the most famous line in the book.
“Owing to this struggle for life, any variation, however slight and from whatever cause proceeding, if it be in any degree profitable to an individual of any species, in its infinitely complex relations to other organic beings and to external nature, will tend to the preservation of that individual, and will generally be inherited by its offspring … I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term of Natural Selection.”
The concept here is not about survival of the fittest or strongest or fastest or smartest – rather, it’s about the importance of a unique “variation” that creates a competitive advantage.
At this point, it may start to make a little more sense as to why a Channel Marketing dude is blathering on about this book. Point is, one of the most universal Marketing misses among technology integrators is that they don’t spend nearly enough time considering what their unique variation is – their Unique Value Proposition.
So often we find the technology providers we work with have not sought to identify what makes them special and different in a crowded field, much less turn that into a brand or campaign to market. More often, we see partners (and manufacturers, alike) who have considered their value… but it’s all too frequently not unique. Best customer service, best engineers, etc., etc. We commonly hear these things in the market, but they get lost in the noise.
The challenge for businesses is to meet the minimum requirements for survival – good customer service and good engineers, for example – while at the same time leveraging their “profitable” variation to drive not only “preservation”, but growth.
So how does one go about this? How do you begin to identify what makes one unique?
Paging Charles Darwin.
A huge underlying theme from Darwin is that life perfects itself through iteration. How a species listens to and responds to the “infinitely complex” world around it determines the long-term survival and prosperity of the species.
These are the next steps in the building (or refreshing) of your Unique Value Proposition… Listen, Respond and Iterate.
Step 1… Reach out to your customers, your partners, your peers and your employees. Ask them what makes the company different and special. What makes them love the company? What do they like not so much? And importantly, ask yourself and your leadership team the same questions.
Step 2… Respond. Take that input and boil it down into a succinct way of expressing your special “variation” based on what you’ve heard from your stakeholders. Put it into market and drive consistency around how the people in your team talk about the organization.
Step 3… Iterate on the work you have done in order to continue to perfect it, while maintaining relevancy and a competitive advantage over time in a changing environment.
And so, on this 150th anniversary of a truly ground-breaking book, the challenge in front of all of us is to take some of the lessons that Darwin laid out within the context of evolutionary biology and apply them to our businesses. Move past the hackneyed old phrase that survival belongs simply to the fittest or strongest. Instead, focus on the variations that make our respective businesses different and special and more well equipped to thrive in an extremely challenging business environment.