Most people misunderstand evolution. They think that changes happen slowly. Imagine an animal with a 12 inch tail. Every generation or so it's imagined that the tail gets a little shorter, then a little shorter, then a little shorter until after some very long time it simply disappears. But that's not at all how evolution works.
Instead, most of the animals have a long tail. Some small number of animals are born each year with very short or no tails. For the most part, this matters little. If the tail is valuable – say for warding off parasites – those without tails may suffer and die off quickly. And that's the way things are, largely unchanged, for decades. But then, something happens in the environment. Perhaps the emergence of a predator able to catch these animals by the tail and hold them in place to let the pack kill it. Within one generation almost all of the tailed animals are killed by the predator, and only the no-tail animals survive. Some of these have developed an immunity to the parasite. So then this "evolved" animal becomes dominant. No-tail animals replace the tailed animals. That's how evolution really works. It happens fast, with drastic change (and this time of change is referred to as a punctuated equilibrium.)
Once we know how evolution really works, we can start to better understand business competition. A Success Formula works for a really long time, until something changes in the marketplace. Suddenly, the old Success Formula has far poorer results. And a replacement takes over.
Consider newspapers. They played a very important role in society for at least 100 years (maybe 200 or 300 hundred years.) But with the advent of the internet, their role is no longer viable. Printing and delivering a daily paper is too expensive for the value it can provide. So think of newspapers as the long-tail animal. And digital news delivery is a short-tail animal. The internet is the attack pack that kills the newspapers. And within short order, the world is a different place – in a new equilibrium. And everything about the surrounding environment is shifted. Regardless of how much you enjoyed newspapers, they simply cannot compete and new competitors are a better fit in the new marketplace.
Now consider Netflix. Netflix played a major influence in obsoleting traditional movie rental shops – like Blockbuster. Netflix was a winner. But markets – new attack packs – keep emerging. And the latest shift are products like the Kindle and Apple Tablet (as well as other tablet PCs.) These products make Hulu and YouTube a lot more viable. Suddenly, Netflix is the long-tail animal, and the short-tail animals are doing relatively better.
According to The Wall Street Journal, in "Apple Sees New Money in Old Media" Apple is close to a deal with several newspapers to deliver their content to readers via their internet device. They also are negotiating rights to deliver movies and television (small format) entertainment. Simultaneously, Amazon keeps marching forward as MediaPost.com reports in "Take That Apple: Kindle Introduces Apps." We see that there are a LOT of potential different versions of the short-tail animal. Tablets, phones, netbooks, etc. Which will be the biggest winners? Not clear. But what is clear is that the old long-tail competitors (newspapers, print magazines, network television, traditional PCs) are not going to flourish as they once did. The market has permanently shifted. Those competitors are in the back end of their lifecycle.
Simultaneously, this market shift causes ripple effects through the environment. The market shift affects ALL players – not just the one most visibly being attacked. So, as SiliconBeat.com reports in "Looks Like Netflix is Dead, Again" this change suddenly imperils Netflix which has mostly counted on postal delivery rather than digital. And it provides a boost to short-tail players like Hulu and YouTube which could see much larger revenue given their digital-based delivery models.
And this affects you. What do you print, or say, that could be better handled on a mobile device? Could you deliver user instructions via an iPhone or Kindle app? If so, why aren't you doing it? Are you still working on traditional web pages, with embedded text in graphics that can't be seen by a mobile phone, when most people are likely to find you first on their mobile device? Are you busy working on your web site, while ignoring having a Linked-in or Facebook account? Are you advertising on television, or in newspapers, and ignoring Facebook ads – or YouTube links? Do you have a YouTube channel with short clips to instruct users on your product, or how to install an upgrade, or even why to buy? Are you still competing with a long tail, while the pack is rapidly killing off the long-tail species?
Market shifts are happening fast today. If you don't react, you just may find yourself deep into the pack with declining results. Or you can shift with the market to keep your business competitive.