Digital Darwinism: Temporal Myopia and the Transformation of Institutional Logics

  • Brian Finn

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    A self-contained perpetual motion device, such as Newton's cradle, is proven to be unsustainable as per the first and second laws of thermodynamics. At some point, external disruptive intervention is needed as a jolt to the mechanism for its continued momentum.

    Similarly, humankind has been propelled forward through abrupt technology-induced paradigm shifts. Over the last four centuries, the most concentrated periods of such advancement emerged, causing seismic shocks of radical discontinuation, resulting in profound and ongoing global techno-socioeconomic progress.

    Moreover, each such successive period has built on the technology of the last, and the pace of innovation is purported to be increasing exponentially. As a consequence, Schwab (2016)cautioned organisational incumbents across all sectors that:‘The question for all industries and companies, without exception, is no longer

    ''Am I going to be disrupted?'' but ''When is disruption coming, what form will it take and how will it affect me and my organisation?’ Schwab (2016, p. 13)

    Indeed since the turn of the millennium, disruptive digital upstart revolutionaries have emerged. As a result, established organisations across industries have been discontinued and overtaken by a relentless march of such so-termed digital pioneer organisations, who blend the latest digital technologies with innovative business and operating approaches. Perhaps Goodwin (2018) most succinctly captured this digital-enabled disruptive dynamic by exampling the manifestation of such cross-sectoral discontinuation:

    ‘Uber, the world's largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world's most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world's largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening’. Goodwin (2018, p. 10)

    The ubiquitous offerings of such digital pioneer organisations have at the same time shaped the tastes and wants of the contemporaneous digital native generations who increasingly dominate the global workforce and, with it, consumer spending. This generational tipping point simultaneously and, in turn, creates a silent social and cultural revolution, which has led to the forceful cancellation of outdated ideas, policies and approaches now seen as throwbacks of a bygone past that are no longer fit for purpose.

    Consequently, virtually all established incumbent organisations, regardless of their industry or sector, must urgently digitally transform themselves to stay relevant in the face of an onslaught of such coalescing forces. However, it is estimated that up to 90% of such digital transformation undertakings fail, with a projected annual cost of over US$3 trillion by 2025.

    The study asserts that the cause of such costly failure rates is primarily temporal myopia. The author observed such a dynamic as a practitioner first-hand, and this was supported through the literature, where it was cited as pervasive in established organisations.

    The author contends that such practitioner-based myopia is ultimately caused by a lack of foundational theoretical grounding and clarity on why digital transformation is necessary, in the first instance, what it means terminologically and in practice and consequentially, how then it should be approached operationally.

    To prevent the risk of what amounts to Digital Darwinism, organisations must consciously address this everyday phenomenon of temporal myopia; to do so requires long-ranging contextual hindsight to gain a needed perspective for strategic foresight. Moreover, this challenge demands the transformation of the established institutional logic.

    To this end, this second volume of this study, complemented by the portfolio of projects presented in volume one, will offer a theoretically grounded model to capture and ultimately explain these revolutionary drivers that coalesce to necessitate digital transformation and, by doing so, articulate why it is necessary for virtually all organisations. Then with this much-needed long-ranging contextual background established, the author offers a conceptual framework to demonstrate how digital transformation manifests operationally and clarify what it means in practical terms.

    The author intentionally invokes a dramatic trope to echo the inherent internal organisational conflict presented by a digital transformation, likening it to an internal coup staged to overthrow the established operating status quo and, in turn, upend the prevailing organisational institutional logic.

    Such an internal action can face a significant reaction of organisational-wide resistance, often manifesting from the board room down due to a pronounced generational divide between the digital natives and their more senior corporate digital immigrants. This internal dynamic can then be juxtaposed against an onslaught of the aforementioned external revolutionary forces that coalesce to threaten the established organisation’s very existence.

    Therefore, the author contends that digital transformation should not just be seen as an internal strategic programme for incumbent organisations across industries and sectors. Instead, it should be treated as an existential necessity to ensure their future relevance and existence in this revolutionary time that has unleashed a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment driven by unstoppable progress forward.
    Date of Award2022
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorSimon Thomas (Supervisor) & Gabor Horvath (Supervisor)

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