Punctuated equilibrium is one of the best heuristics to understand how winners and losers are created in times of crisis. In short, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about radical change across social, political, and business landscapes, and even as the future remains uncertain, embracing opportunities to execute a punctuated leap in the evolution of your organization is critical for survival. In times of stability, the evolutionary theory of gradualism is afforded the time, patience, and fortuitousness to take effect. Yet, in times of turmoil and disruption, the evolutionary theory of punctuated equilibrium determines who ultimately survives and thrives.

Never Let a Crisis Go to Waste


As a CEO leading through the pandemic, you’ve heard “never let a crisis go to waste.” Still, what practical takeaways from 2020 will place you among the top performers emerging from one of the most disruptive and destabilizing periods in our lifetime? Throughout our research, we repeatedly find leaders who make bold and decisive actions outperform their peers and outpace the market. Gradualism, indecision, and half measures won’t deliver the results nor inspire the confidence needed to survive, evolve, and thrive as a market-leading Accelerator in 2021. Take the 7-minute assessment to pinpoint your strengths and gaps based on the Revenue Growth Maturity Model.


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The foundational principles behind the decisive moves distinguishing top performers are evident broadly across disciplines and history. One such foundational principle comes from the punctuated equilibrium theory of evolutionary biology as a powerful force determining whether species survive and ultimately thrive. The punctuated equilibrium model of change assumes long periods of small, incremental change are interrupted by brief periods of discontinuous, radical change (Utterback, 1978). Think of gradualism as a steady ascending slope and punctuated equilibrium as a step-like change.



We are undoubtedly experiencing radical and fundamental changes in a very short time, resembling the central argument of the punctuated equilibrium model where change oscillates between long periods of stability and short bursts of radical change fundamentally altering the business landscape. Satya Nadella highlighted this rapid shift currently taking place by stating in Microsoft’s first quarterly earnings call of the COVID-era, “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”


Digitization, advanced technologies, and other forms of tech-enabled disruption are upending industry after industry. Embracing a digital future is no longer an option; it is a requirement for survival. Increasingly we are seeing accelerating digitization widening the gap in capabilities and performance between leaders and laggards. Over the course of a few months, your company’s resiliency has been put to the test, and only the healthiest organizations and functions within your organization have survived. This form of natural selection is ruthless yet efficient and is to be embraced if you are to become and endure as a market leader.


Accelerators Go All-In


Our research on large-scale transformation and from past downturns confirms that companies taking an all-in approach, committing fully in terms of capital and overall strategy, emerge stronger and sustain a competitive advantage long after a crisis has ended. To emerge ahead of the pack, your bets need to go big.


Revitalizing Growth: Accelerate While Others Stand Still provides a comprehensive approach to lead through this ongoing crisis and inevitable future hardships. Applying a survive, evolve, and thrive framework to the research shows how leading organization are thinking about their big bets and going all-in as they begin their 2021 strategic planning and execution:


  • Survive: Re-Assess the Revenue Growth Strategy – What major changes must be made and over what time frame?
  • Evolve: Re-Allocate Resources to Drive Execution – How do we implement quickly and flawlessly?
  • Thrive: Re-Imagine the Commercial Engine – What is possible in the new landscape?


Market-leading Accelerators are first focusing on essential operational excellence to ensure they survive the downturn. Their focus then shifts to evolve based on a punctuated equilibrium model, which posits crisis often drives rapid evolution of a species. The rapid evolution has been richly illustrated at organizational and societal levels by the rapid adoption of digital, IT-based, and customer-centric solutions in the past few months. Lastly, Accelerators are setting their sights on how best to thrive by reimagining their future business landscape.


Survival of the Boldest and Quickest


We are living through unprecedented times comprised of earth-rattling disruption. Markets and countries shut down overnight, and ways of working are permanently altered. In this sense, we are experiencing a punctuation in what was previously a relative equilibrium. Recent examples of industry punctuations include the streaming content model, which upended the relative stasis of the music, entertainment, and cable industries, or the dramatic disruption of the US auto industry dominated by GM, Ford, and Chrysler for 60 years until we entered the current era of electric cars, autonomous vehicles, and ride-sharing. Although not frequent, these punctuations cause momentous change. Great wealth, profit, and prominence go to those who embrace these disruptions early and fully.


With everything disrupted, resorting to your same old approach is a losing strategy. Market-leading Accelerators are reinventing themselves by quickly and comprehensively embracing pandemic-driven change. So how much should your organization pivot, and how fast? Amid so much tumult and disruption, there is often hesitation and indecision around how far you should go to adopt more agile ways of working and execute large-scale change such as tech-enabled transformations.


The truth is, if your organization does not move quickly, you will fall behind and sustain unrecoverable losses. Accelerators move early, ahead of, during, and after the downturn. They enter the downturn ahead of their competitors, sustain less pronounced of a decline, and come out of the crisis full throttle with the momentum to create the needed separation from their competition. In short, the crisis has brought about radical change and although the future remains uncertain, embracing this opportunity to execute a punctuated leap in the evolution of your organization is critical for survival.


So how should you get started? Your initial recovery actions should stress operational excellence because if operations falter, especially regarding rigorous financial management, you won’t survive long enough to evolve and thrive. The key to survival is fully embracing a digital working environment. Such digital transformations have occurred in weeks rather than months or years. Industries believed too big to change like healthcare are permanently changed as COVID-19 uprooted their traditional processes for the better.


Thrive by Envisioning a Better Future


Although difficult to remain optimistic day-in and day-out, setting your sights on a better future for yourself and your tribe will make it easier to keep a positive attitude and lead from the front. However you define your tribe, whether it’s your immediate family, friends, social circles, extended virtual networks, or at a broad humanitarian level, the long-term vision is not just surviving but thriving. The recent pandemic has provided ample examples of social, institutional, and character decay, not to mention destroying livelihoods. Although the full implications of the pandemic are far from certain, it is already clear the social, political, and economic consequences have been detrimental to many.


So, what history lessons can we apply to our current situation? The answer: adaptability is key to surviving and thriving as a species and as an organization. Every week you’ve had to assess and reassess your position in the market, making dynamic moves and pivoting to adapt to the rapid changes taking place. You know the path behind you and in front is not a straight line. Embrace the change and adopt an all-in approach in your journey toward your organization’s full potential. Bold aspirations matter hugely in surviving, evolving, and ultimately thriving, but most leaders tend to be far more comfortable when they under promise and over deliver – this is a losing strategy. Making bold and decisive moves mirroring the punctuated equilibrium evolutionary model will ultimately deliver more upside than downside and distinguish you as a leader in your market. The final takeaway is twofold, regardless of your business context – first, get moving and set your sights on a better future; second, go big, making bold decisions, and taking decisive action.


SBI’s Revenue Growth Maturity Model Diagnostic helps to assess your organization’s capabilities and provides actionable insights to leverage immediately to achieve more predictable growth in 2021.


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Evan Morgan

Accelerating the rate of revenue growth by seamlessly blending strategy and execution.

Evan leverages his operational leadership and consulting experience to build high performing, cross-functional teams that deliver breakthrough topline results. He has helped Fortune 500 clients successfully formulate sales and operational strategies and effectively execute revenue growth projects. His experience spans high tech start-ups through billion-dollar financial services companies, where he brings his analytical, investigative approach to diagnose root causes impacting a company’s ability to grow.


Evan’s background in strategy, sales operations, and enablement allows him to provide thought-leadership in emerging best practices in sales and marketing.


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