By Sam Bodley-Scott, Principal & Director of Strategic Consulting, Kepner-Tregoe, Inc

Thursday’s announcement about the demise of the once mighty Kodak does prompt an interesting question about whether organisations can live forever.

We often hear the term ‘DNA’ applied to organisations as a way of characterising what constitutes their fundamental nature and accounts for their competitive success. But what if we use this DNA metaphor to bring to light the immutable and rather uncomfortable truth that like humans, organisations can’t actually change their DNA and that like us, as they age find it increasingly difficult to maintain their health and vitality, and will ultimately die.

The received wisdom within the business management and leadership community is that through continuous strategic innovation and world-class change management, organisations should be able to live forever. But can this really be true? With Kodak, we can see an example of a market that has evolved in such a way as to make their DNA, in other words their experience, product passions, market intuition, competitive drivers, values and capabilities no longer relevant.

In these situations adaptive change such as Coca-Cola’s move to healthier soft drinks or Nokia’s move to smart phones, is not enough. There has to be recognition that the only way to survive is to create an entirely new organisation with new relevant genetic material.

As with us humans the future lies in finding a partner with different, relevant DNA and with whom we can create a new powerful creature. In these situations there must be and absolute requirement is to get sufficient new DNA to fundamentally change the old. Unfortunately there are too many organisations that remain unwilling or unable to find a partner with whom to create their next generation, choosing instead to invest in increasingly uncomfortable and inappropriate adaptations to survive and compete with I’m afraid, inevitable consequences.

But there are many examples of successful corporate evolution. Swatch was originally called The Swiss Corporation for Microelectronics and Watch Making Industries Ltd. and resulted from the merger of a leading mass market mechanical watch maker and an electronics group to produce and organisation fit for a rapidly changing technology environment. Swatch is now, the world’s largest watchmaker.

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