While in London recently for a series of meetings, I repeatedly heard the English phrase “fit for purpose.” It’s become a cliche for many in England, but I was struck by its syllabic crispness and brevity.
The idea of “fit” makes me think of Charles Darwin’s theory of “survival of the fittest.” The fittest are those who are best able to adapt to changing environments, or in the case of a business, a changing market. Successful companies survive, transition, evolve, exploit and pivot over time. They are fit for purpose.
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, or the most intelligent. It is the one that is most responsive to change.
Motorola as a cautionary tale
Recently, there was media coverage about how Motorola has essentially died. It was slowly broken into pieces and sold off to various other companies. Google bought its cellphone business, Motorola Motions, for $12 billion a few years ago, and just unloaded it to Chinese PC manufacturer Lenovo for $2 billion. Ouch.
At one point in time, Motorola owned 60-70% of the cellphone market, had 150,000 employees and was one of the leading tech innovators in the world. They’re the ones who brought the mobile phone to the masses. They invented the police radio. They invented the car radio. They commercialized independent satellite communication.
There was a lengthy period of time during which everyone would have assumed that Motorola would be around forever. Until they weren’t.
There was an era when Motorola was fit for purpose. Until it wasn’t.
Motorola was a product company with a legacy of good R&D and solid commercialization, but they lost touch with what customers wanted. It’s an important cautionary tale for all of us.