Are you stuck in a "Rigidity Trap?" What's next?

Recently, we had a few thought provoking case discussions in my class.  We discussed the small cases of the companies like Blockbuster, Research in Motion (RIM), MySpace and Hewlett-Packard (HP). We discussed how these yesterday’s successful innovators turned into today’s “old news”.  After a wonderful environment analysis, a dominant view point emerged that when you lack a proper feedback system and can not keep up with the consumer and technological evolution, you might get stuck in a "rigidity trap" and fail.  

Then, we tried to discuss what can be done next? And, a dominant view emerged: Not much, They need to conduct more market research, There is a lot of uncertainty about market opportunities and not enough information, and That’s probably "the end".  These are like the Halloween horror stories, and, you better ask "Who’s next?"!  Before I had the chance to explore alternate view points, I came across an insightful discussion started by a blog post and this video by Brian Solis, “Digital Darwinism: Who’s next?”


I was able to understand and relate with my students and Mr. Solis's view points. However, I am afraid that these view points may be simplistic and give a myopic view and not a full picture.  It is extremely important to build agility to avoid the "rigidity trap". If you don’t have proper feedback mechanisms to predict changes or you are not able to adapt the changes in the environment, you might get stuck in the “rigidity trap” and you are at high risk for failing. However, in these view points, I sensed some implicit assumptions, like i) you are always able to accurately measure the impact of technology on your business, products and customers, ii) when you make some error or omission, you get trapped into rigidity, and iii) once you are trapped, you are failed, dead and that’s the end. And these assumptions are not always true.  

These assumptions are not compatible with the recent academic literature on evolution, resilience and adaptive cycle by Dr. C.S. (Buzz) Holling.  According to him, the ecosystem is way more complex to fully understand and accurately predict.  And, even in absence of any error or omission, it is natural to develop more connections, efficiency and "imposed order" as a system grows.  Sometimes, the imposed order sustain beyond its usefulness and a system gets stuck in the rigidity trap, however, the "imposed order" and the rigidity trap collapses at a tipping point. This rigidity trap and resultant collapse is not “the end”; it is a new beginning of reorganization and renewal. Apple is a good example of a company that was able to innovate, reorganize and renew the resources, when faced with the adversities.

And, I think, it is important to embrace complexity and the resilience thinking to understand an organization’s resilience and dynamic capabilities. The historical simplistic and reductionist thinking won’t be sufficient to solve the problems of today’s organizations that are embedded in the highly dynamic and complex business ecosystem. 

What do you think? Have you ever experienced such trap? Have you ever been able to bounce back from failure?  Share your stories.
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