The prevailing paradigm that has underpinned business for the past 50 years is beginning to shift. Over the next 10 years, we will see the nature of the firm reshaped by the cumulative impact of external and internal forces.

But this change has happened many times before.

When we looked back, we learned that the idea of a business has evolved slowly but profoundly through a series of what we can now see as definable eras. These eras typically last about 40 to 50 years. They’re marked by a set of unifying characteristics and a quintessential company that comes to symbolize the era, such as Standard Oil of the trust era at the turn of the last century.

Transitions between eras play out over decades. The edges are fuzzy and often become clear only in hindsight. Some elements of the previous era remain in place, while others evolve into something quite different. But recognizing the pattern of evolution can help businesses adapt to win in the coming era.