Change is inevitable, innovation can be avoided. That in summary is what Thomas Cagley responded to part 21 of the innovation series. Gene Hughson followed up with “learning to deal with the inevitable“. We are faced with inevitable change and avoidable innovation, according to Gene and Tom.
Paleontology has taught us that the evolution of species seems to happen in incremental steps. Long periods of equilibrium and homeostasis are followed by, on a geological time scale, short bursts of differentiation. This is called punctuated equilibrium. The “opposite” of punctuated equilibrium is “phyletic gradualism”.
Both theories are concerned with inevitable change. The difference lies in the process. Is change a constant or is it something that happens rarely but radically? The rug is pulled out from under us and we struggle to regain our balance.
A time of constant change
We are living in a time of constant and inevitable change. As a I wrote earlier on this blog, change is the only constant. Ever since the agricultural revolution started some 10 000 years ago, people have been under pressure to change. Our genetic record shows that many adapted while others did not. Sooner or later though, we will reach a new equilibrium. For all we know, this equilibrium might last for millions of years, just like it did for the Megalodon.
Most things do not change
We humans have a tendency to see meaning where none exist. We are much more watchful of change than of constancy. Combine these two biases and you have people who see inevitable change everywhere. To us, change will be seen as not only inevitable but also as preordained, fated, even divine. It is no small wonder that the most famous quote about change is attributed to a religious figure. You know which one I mean: “Change is the only constant”.
It is true that we are living in a time of change. A time of change that has been going on for a long time and will continue for a long time. But we will reach a new point of equilibrium that will last much longer than the time of change we are currently living through. But even in these times of change, more is constant than we care to admit.
- We have left the stone age behind us, yet 20% of the world economy is based on stone in various forms.
- We have found new ways to produce food, yet the majority of our domestic animals are descendants of individuals domesticated thousands of years ago.
Most changes in evolution are small. They are not big morphological changes. They are small physiological and immunological changes. The ability to resist new disease and the ability to consume new food is much more important than the (seemingly) bigger changes. The same is true with enterprises, small but constant innovation gives the enterprise the ability to resist in the face of small but constant outside change.
The innovation series
This post is part 22 in my innovation conversation with Gene Hughson.
- Punctuated equilibrium: Miguel Chavez, modified by wooptoo on Wikimedia Commons | PD
- Hominin evolution: Cruithne9 on Wikimedia Commons | CC BY SA 4.0