The ‘5-35-60’ change framework


We who swim digitally in that vast and polluted information ocean that is zero cost self publishing platforms (twitters, blogs, IG) and old media gone digital (print, tv) see it all the time. It perenially feels like the above line is the undertone in and of all headlines in these last 2 decades.

Every media entity and business firm that is vested in change is interested in convincing us that everything is changing and fast and if we don’t change too we and our firm will be left behind. This is exhausting. Most of us have ‘status quo bias’ and this relentless change message barrage grates against this bias. It chafes like a pointy splinter against our understandble need for the blanket of the familiar.

Recently it has began to dawn on me that this message is bogus. Everything ‘Hot!’ and ‘New!’ at the moment is not destined for world domination, inspite of breathless non-stop press. William Gibson coined the term “Cyberspace” and later popularized the concept in his novel Neuromancer. He has a awesome quote attributed to him way back in 1993: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed”.

Remembering that quote was the breakthrough. For it helped me understand that while Change is a constant, it is never evenly distributed. Which I then internalized into my own “5-35-60” framework to better understand change and reclaim my sense of calm.

The framework : At any given moment something that has gained traction is going to peter off at 5% if it is a worthy but incremental improvement over the status quo , 35% if it is a vast improvement and 60% if it vast improvement, cheaper and easily scalable. The initial 5% will feel rapid and feed the headlines. The next 30% will be slow but feel fast. The last 25% to reach 60% will feel glacial. And after that an evenly distributed 70%+ share will likely be generational change. 

Things that roughly fit this framework out in the real world:

  • Online eSales (Amazon currently has about 44% of U.S. e-commerce market share. Not even 50%. Amazon ha sbeen at it for 23 years now. Bet you thought it was 80%+)
  • The rise of smartphones (over 2 decades the number of people that own a smartphone is 4.78 Billion, making up 61.67% of the world’s population)
  • MOOCs vs traditonal college education (under 5%)
  • Netflix vs Cable TV as a % of TV Consumption (3 people in a room of 100 people have Netflix, globally. Also that’s how privileged you are!)
  • Tesla is likely not going to own the majority of car market globally (but is priced like it is. Toyota sold 10.46 million vehicles, Tesla sold 367,200 vehicles last year)

Nothing is going to go on a smooth upward path from 0 to 100%, no matter how much fawning press it gets and however much the consultants and industry hacks try and convince you otherwise.

  • Amazon is never going to get to owning 100% of eRetail sales.
  • AirBnB is never going to get to owning 100% of Room sales in a city.
  • Chrome is never going to get to 100% of Browser Share. (it’s 63%)
  • Bitcoin is NOT going to repalce Fiat Currency

Bezos has a mature take on change. In an interview he said “I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. … [I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible. And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.”

In this breathless no-standards no-skeptic news saturated world we always feel like any new phemomenon/tech is going to own 100% of the market by the end of next year. But Evenly Distributed takes effort, flawless execution and hell of a time. Things peter out much earlier (at 5%, at 35%). Even the obvious improvements. Red Queen Effect is a thing too.

This 5-35-60 framework is a calming pill. Use liberally.


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