Home Concepts Organizational Theory Evolutionary Change and Organizational Innovation: Implications for Coaches and Their Leader Clients

Evolutionary Change and Organizational Innovation: Implications for Coaches and Their Leader Clients

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So, what if anything does this rather theoretical model of evolution have to do with the very real world of organizational innovation and the challenges of fostering change within a complex system (such as exists in 21st Century organizations). I would suggest that all five assumptions can be applied to organizational life. If all or most of the five Hardy-Weinberg assumptions are descriptive of an organization, then it is likely to remain in equilibrium and innovation is unlikely to occur. The key, therefore, for the organizational coach and leader client is to ensure that these assumptions aren’t being met. Let’s focus briefly on each assumption and see what it says about organizational innovation and change. Furthermore, what applications can be made to the work being done by an organizational coach?

Mutations and Organizational Diversity

If there are no mutations in a population then evolution will not take place. There is no room for variations or mistakes in a system in equilibrium.

Implications

Innovation requires that things are not always going right in an organization. There must be variations if the organization is to generate innovations.  As noted by Stephen Greenblatt in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Swerve, the critical role played by mutations and mistakes goes back many centuries to the writing of Lucretius in The Nature of Things.  As interpreted by Greenblatt (2011, p. 188), Lucretius is proposing that:

Everything comes into being as a result of a swerve. If all the individual particles, in their infinite numbers, fell through the void in straight lines, pulled down by their own weight like raindrops, nothing would ever exist. But the particles do not move lockstep in a preordained single direction. Instead, ‘at absolutely unpredictable times and places they deflect slightly from their straight course, to a degree that could be described as no more than a shift of movement.’

In contemporary times, Scott Page (2011) writes about the generation of multiple ideas (mutations) and the power of diversity within any system in his very challenging book, Diversity and Complexity. Page suggests that a world filled with many perspectives is one in which good ideas, clear thinking and accurate information is likely to emerge: “if we have lots of diverse paths . . . , we are not likely to make mistakes. If we only have a few paths, mistakes are likely. “ (Page, 2011, p. 240) Page makes the strong case for the important interplay between complexity and diversity. Systems that are complex and diverse will be more resilient and amenable to change:

Systems that produce complexity consist of diverse rule-following entities whose behaviors are interdependent. . . . I find it helpful to think of complex systems as “large” in Walt Whitman’s sense of containing contradictions. They tend to be robust and at the same time capable of producing large events. They can attain equilibria, both fixed points and simple patterns, as well as produce long random sequences.  (Page, 2011, pg. 17)

There is one thing we have learned in recent years with regard to the viability of organizations that has almost become an axiom: if there is extensive variability (disturbance) within the environment in which an organization operates, then there must also be extensive variability (diversity) inside the organization. Page identifies this axiom as the Law of Requisite Variety:

 . . . the greater the diversity of possible responses, the more disturbances a system can absorb. For each type of disturbance, the system must contain some counteracting response. . . . The law of requisite variety provides an insight into well-functioning complex systems. The diversity of potential responses must be sufficient to handle the diversity of disturbances. If disturbances become more diverse, then so must the possible responses. If not the system won’t hold together. (Page, 2011, p. 204, 211)

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