In order to adapt, a company must have its antennae tuned to signals of change from the external environment, decode them, and quickly act to refine or reinvent its business model and even reshape the information landscape of its industry.
Think back to when Stirling Moss was winning Formula One car races: The car and the driver determined who won. But today the sport is as much about processing complex signals and making adaptive decisions as about mechanics and driving prowess. Hundreds of sensors are built into the cars; race teams continuously collect and process data on several thousand variables—ranging from weather and road conditions to engine rpm and the angles of curves—and feed them into dynamic simulation models that guide the drivers’ split-second decisions. A telemetric innovation by one team can instantly raise the bar for all.
In this information-saturated age, when complex, varying signals may be available simultaneously to all players, adaptive companies must similarly rely on sophisticated point-of-sale systems to ensure that they acquire the right information. And they must apply advanced data-mining technologies to recognize relevant patterns in it.
For example, companies are also leveraging their signal-reading capabilities to make operational interventions in real time, bypassing slow-moving decision hierarchies. The UK-based grocery retailer Tesco continually performs detailed analyses of the purchase patterns of the more than 13 million members of its loyalty-card program. Its findings enable Tesco to customize offerings for each store and each customer segment and provide early warning of shifts in customer behaviour. They also supported the development of Tesco’s hugely successful online platform, which has extended the company’s business model, enabling Tesco to become a store without walls and to offer a broader range of products and services, including media and financial services. To put the icing on the cake, instead of being purely a cost centre, the rich databases and analytical capabilities produce a stream of direct revenue: For a fee, Tesco allows other enterprises to access its technologies and insights.