Why this Industry is So Resistant to Change: The ‘Selfish Gene’

What is it about the integration business model that might make us wary of change, and what can we do about it?

George Tucker

Innovation — it is the life-giving blood of the audio visual integration industry, yet we hate it so.

Nearly nothing else drives growth and sales the way innovative devices and systems do. This is a truism for CE manufacturers as well as high-end home theater integrators.

The Conundrum of Change

For integrators, change can breathe new life into existing projects by allowing us to offer up-sell retrofits and to gain new clients who come to us with a news article or brochure in hand. The conversations of what’s next are the fodder of online chatter as we discuss the implications. We fill the comment boxes to the brim with hyperventilating prose extolling the pros and cons.

So, knowing these truisms, just why do AV integrators hesitate to accept new technologies or even sometimes actively work to defeat them? Often we pile on, punching holes with a demonic glee at the newest potential.

The answer, to be succinct, is that it is all about the business model. Profit (or the lack thereof) is often based on how efficiently a job can be installed and maintained. As an industry our margins are small and getting smaller as they shrink with competition from off-the-shelf ‘systems’ and internet sales.

The Need to Be Efficiently Fit to Survive

Efficiency is generally the result of familiarity, and this familiarity can breed contempt for the new. Dealing with a known methodology means that there is less need for problem solving, (they are already known!) and no learning curve or retooling.

Our supply chain knows this and invests a great deal to woo us with the right words. A short perusal of any manufacturer’s product brochures and you will find some reference implying implementation of their system will ‘cut waste,’ ‘save you time and money’ and make your company lean and mean.

Evolution not Revolution

Evolution gave us the prehensile thumb and a large brain cavity to body ratio allowing for the invention and use of tools.

Revolutions are disruptive, causing great chaos. Revolution killed the dinosaurs and set the stage for the rise of mammals. This would seem, from our mammalian perspective, to be a positive thing. It is true that we owe our existence to this event but the timeline to this day has been extraordinarily long.

Related: Mega-Trends Driving IT Innovation

The first statement most folks think of when discussing evolution usually concerns ‘survival of the fittest.’  This phrase is used to convey that only the strong and forthright will continue, pushing aside the ‘weaker’ competitors to the top. Unfortunately this premise of natural selection is actually a bit misunderstood.

The Selfish Gene

Talk to an evolutionary biologist and she will stress that evolution is not the result of radical sudden change, rather it is the slow mutations of DNA in response to the changes in environment. Natural selection is about adaptation to these changes in a progressive line which makes the organism’s continued propagation successful.

This evolution can result in some odd hybrid systems which have layers upon layers of complexity and use specific features which make it difficult to transfer to a different environment. While this can be a successful strategy for survival, it can also set us up for extinction when things finally change completely.

Markets, like our genes, care only about the ability to keep a line living into the future.

Like evolution, there is no real forward or backward — only what is right for an application. Push too hard to make fundamental changes too fast and one winds up with a non functioning (and potentially deadly) appendix, or an entire library in HD-DVD.

Related: Reinventing AV Integration