Evolutionary Change vs. Revolutionary Change

I often talk about Evolutionary change vs. Revolutionary change. All products and companies need to change to survive. They need to get better, cheaper and faster at what they already do today.

An effective company develops ways to evolve over time.  Your competition is also evolving.  They do not sit around and do nothing, as much as we’d like to think so.  Designing systems to listen to your customers, gather their feedback data, and react quickly will help you evolve your products faster than your competition. 

We have all heard the expression, "It's a marathon, not a sprint."  Let's look at Evolutionary change like a long race - take the 2011 Tour de France for example.  The winner took 86 hours, 12 minutes, 22 seconds (310,342 seconds). Second place was 1 minute, 34 seconds behind (96 seconds). That isn't a difference of one percent. That isn't a difference of 1/10 of one percent. That is three one hundredths of a percent. The race is 3,479 kilometers and it goes over 20 stages. One tiny little rest in all those days and miles and the winner is no longer a winner.

Now imagine if you start behind someone and need to make up ground. It takes amazing effort and energy. You must be going very fast to catch up, much less pass someone.  The need for Evolutionary change never goes away.

Now, let's look at Revolutionary change. These are ways of thinking of products or services nobody has thought of or created yet. There is no competition, yet. I like to think of it like running the race, but we are the only one in it for a long time. Others can (and will) come in, but now they are the ones starting way behind.

Revolutionary has to be created by yourself or your company, not your client. The users and clients of a product describe their desires only in terms of what they are already using or doing. You live and breathe your world every day. Nobody knows more about what you do everyday than you.

The best way to think about how you can do revolutionary things is to solve problems for yourself.  What pain do you see and how would you like to see it solved?

To describe it in Steve Job's terms, he did not do focus groups to come up with a new phone or MP3 player concept.  He designed what he wanted (Revolutionary).  Then, once the product hit the market, the users saw ways to improve and evolve the product into something even better, and they keep improving the product (Evolutionary).

An exceptional organization needs to be good at both types of change.  Carve out some resources to dedicate to the next great thing, that are not pulled by day-to-day requests, or you will never achieve the Revolutionary. Also, have a team focused on customer feedback and experience enhancement so your existing products don't take a rest and lose the race.


  1. Revolutionary change require some risk taking. Apple is a great example. Products such as Newton and Casper failed miserably before Apple came out with products like iPods, iPhones & iPads. Their persuit almost killed the company; but they eventually prevailed. Apple, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn & YouTube tought me a few things.... simplification, collaboration, instant responsiveness & user involvement. Hence, system of engagement.

  2. Well put with Steve Jobs' terms. Thanks.