Review – Digital Darwinism

May 6, 2018


Maybe you have heard about digitalisation? Apparently, it’s something big. But what is it, what does it do, and how will it affect our lives? And why should you read Digital Darwinism instead of all the other books on the topic?

Digital Darwinism avoids the usual pitfall of either praising or damning new technologies. In fact, author Tom Goodwin makes a point how this is completely irrelevant. Digitalisation is not about better WiFi chips, or better data storage. It’s about people. People that find new ways to interact with technology.


Benefits, not features

Digital Darwinism is a rather provocative book, revealing most ideas we have about digitalisation as misconceptions. Most companies define it as taking their old products and try to internet ‘em up somehow. They would be better off trying to find new and creative ways to fulfill customers’ needs. The emergence of Chief Digital Officers in executive boards actually is a sign that companies don’t fully embrace digitalisation yet. Instead of a transformative force that penetrates all functions and business segments, digitalisation is treated as an attachment, bolted on to the old stuff.

An interesting question Digital Darwinism raises is “How would your business look like, if it was founded today?”. And I agree with Goodwin that everybody saying “pretty much the same” is a. a startup founder or b. didn’t think hard enough. Businesses carry loads of legacy stuff with them – a huge workforce, expensive infrastructure,a huge amount of products or services and proven processes. Companies with a legacy usually excel at incremental improvements, but all their stuff makes changing and adapting harder.

Additionally, legacy companies are very risk-averse. And people in the position to change this have either too much to lose or too little skin in the game to undertake disruptive changes. It is easier to justify a bad decision as “data driven”, than to admit that the data is incomplete and biased. But Goodwin does not just mock how companies fail to digitalize. Digital Darwinism offers a pretty succinct summary on the necessary steps to completely rethink a business.


Lessons from history

Goodwin presents the electrical revolution as a strikingly analogous historical example. At first, it was an expensive toy for the rich. Then, non-electric things were gradually improved with electricity, always keeping some of their limitations. Early electric lamps were infinity times better than candles or petroleum lamps – but the switch was positioned right at the lamp instead of the wall next to the door, so you couldn’t easily find it in the dark. Now, nobody thinks a lot about electricity. It is an integral part of the design of everything, many products and services would be unthinkable to make without it. We don’t need a swarm of consultants anymore to analyze how to electrify our processes. And there is definitely no need for a Chief Electrical Officer. That’s where the digital revolution is headed.



So if you read only on book about our imminent future and the impact of digitalisation, I recommend Homo Deus by Yuval Harari. Homo Deus offers a more philosophical, human view on the topic. If you want something more grounded, more focused on tech and how we should use it, and that still makes you think, I absolutely recommend Digital Darwinism. If you happen to have an important position in a legacy company, maybe even get it first.


Key points:

  • Don’t apply old thinking to new areas.
  • Innovate to disrupt your own business.
  • Think about emotions and convenience, not technology.


Author affiliations:

Tom Goodwin works as Head of Innovation (whatever that means) at Zenith Media, a consultancy specializing in communication and media strategy and data analytics. At least that’s what I think, their website does not really tell me much. He is also a speaker (mostly innovation and digitalization topics) and frequently contributes articles on business and tech websites. Everything can be found on his website.


Review copy:

copy provided by publisher
Kogan Page; 1 edition (3 April 2018)
ISBN-10: 0749482281
ISBN-13: 978-0749482282

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Digital Darwinism Book Cover Digital Darwinism
Tom Goodwin
Kogan Page
April 3, 2018


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