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Prometheus was right

Joe Benesh is a senior architect with Shive-Hattery and president and CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, diagramming, framework development and design thinking consulting firm.

I have been thinking a lot about the concept of relevance lately. Many of the groups I am working with or have worked with recently have been struggling with their identities. The origin of these existential questions stems from a number of factors: changing needs of their target demographic, scarcity of resources, and rising expectations of increased ROI by investors, volunteers or consumers.

In the traditional business model, market forces tend to drive toward an equilibrium point; what is being offered tends to balance out with what is desired. Due mostly to the vast influence and impact of technology in our lives, expectations are being redefined by our exposure to a larger base of knowledge about the world around us. Prometheus_Adam_Louvre_MR1745_edit_atoma

Creative destruction assumes the opposite of this framework. The speed at which product cycles turn over is so rapid that we have come expect that something new and more impressive (and therefore more desirable) is always just over the horizon. So we have become conditioned to expect things to come more quickly, turn over more frequently, and exist in spite of, not as a complement to, whatever previous version existed.


Planned obsolescence is not a new concept; our economy is rooted in the need to buy the same products again and again over discrete timelines. But the ripple effect that technology has had on our response to this planned obsolescence has created a paradoxical relationship with our expectations for strategic development within our organizations.


When an organization raises the question "How do we remain relevant?" all of the above starts to come into play. A common problem is engagement. Leadership in organizations wants to know how to keep members or employees engaged. And here is where creative destruction comes into play.


In this case, let’s do a bit of reverse engineering. The end result is that we have actively engaged members or employees. So the question is "What do we need to offer or produce to secure that outcome?" In a traditional model, you may simply survey your membership and align offerings with the results of the survey. Seems simple enough. Give the people what they ask for. Equilibrium reached. Supply meets demand. But this is a flawed assumption. Studies have shown that simply providing the exact thing that is being requested actually leads to a drop in employee satisfaction.


If we use the creative destruction model, we stand a better chance of meeting the needs of our ever-evolving group of constituents. There is now an expectation of innovation in the product mix being offered. In addition, there is an expectation that the solution or developmental framework be competitive with other similar offerings, as well as developed in such a way as to be conducive to manipulation by members of this constituent group. It also must be iterative, meaning that whatever version you are currently rolling out, there must be a promise of more to come; dynamic evolution.


The concept of relevance has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. The past was dominated by a move toward finding stability within an organization. Rather than being mired in tradition or chained to standard practices, relevance means flexibility, adaptability and being nimble and responsive. To think that the creation of relevance is based in something called creative destruction seems counterintuitive, but these are the times in which we live. As Prometheus said, “To create, you must destroy.”

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