have a new book coming out in January about the themes in this blog. Its full title is Dealing with Darwin: How Great Companies Innovate At Every Phase of Their Evolution When people hear about it, the first question they usually ask is, why Darwin?
Of course, the parallels between economic and ecological systems have long been appreciated. Both involve competitions for scarce resources. Both are driven by relentless mutations which seek to alter competitive dynamics in favor of the new strategy. In each there is a natural selection that dispenses with underperforming strategies and reinforces successful ones, with the effect that every year the overall bar of competence gets set a bit higher, and the next round of mutations has to go a bit further in order to gain the next generation of advantage.
When we are on the winning side of this equation, we call it progress, and we laud the rewards it creates for consumers and enterprises alike. On the other hand, when we are on the losing side, we call it globalization, and we cry out for protectionist measures to insulate our workforces and our companies from the natural selection that would otherwise decimate them.
All this is well understood. But in the midst of all this there is one thing we often forget and of which we must continually remind of ourselves:
Darwin doesn’t care.
AT&T long distance has been one of the most respected and honored institutions in the history of American business, now gone. Darwin doesn’t care. The workers at Delphi, General Motors, Bethlehem Steel, and United Airlines all negotiated in good faith and at considerable personal sacrifice to secure rock-solid contracts with superior health and pension benefits, now gone or going. Darwin doesn’t care. The Chinese repeatedly violate their commitments to restrict exports and set a fair value on their currency. By the way, the U.S. similarly acts in bad faith with regard to agricultural subsidies and protections. Darwin doesn’t care. The U.S. standard of living requires a very high wage to meet it, far higher than required by other countries. Darwin doesn’t care. Because capital flows to its source of greatest return, we cannot hold it captive and may see it abandon our shores in time of our greatest need. Darwin doesn’t care.
Dealing with Darwin means forsaking the mindset of entitlement. We are either going to evolve to leverage the new opportunities and meet the new competitive threats, or we are going to be marginalized. Either way, evolution will go on, with us or without us. We do not have a choice of system, only how we participate within it.
So the first principle of the new rules of business for the 21st century is: Get over it! We only have a limited amount of time on the planet, and there is nothing to be gained from complaining. To be sure, we can still hold people to their commitments, we can still invoke laws, contracts, and norms, we still makes clear that we care, and that we will intervene with our energies. We just have to remember that Darwin doesn’t.