Tue 8 May 2012
I’ve noticed several examples of evolutionary thinking recently. Some of them explicitly so and others simply taking basic evolutionary premisses for granted. And funnily enough the paradigm seems to blend in with core ideas from my other passion namely cognitive theory (that indirectly let me to biomimetics back then). Let’s take a look at the 10 most interesting examples I’ve stumbled across lately.
- McKinsey affiliate Eric Beinhocker’s The Origin of Wealth. Evolution, Complexity and the radical Remaking of Economics A hardcore evolutionary argument on how creating value in general depends on complex thinking, dynamics and adaptivity rather than traditional static dynamic models.
- Yahoo’s chief scientist, former Columbia professor in sociology and PhD i network theory Duncan Watts’ latest book Everything is Obvious: Once you Know the Answer claims that long-term strategic thinking have to be replaced by an iterative data-driven approach. Common sense is not just sometimes off but ALWAYS wrong when it come to fairly complex matters and several steps of causality.
- The economist Tim Harford have just made a similar argument although more explicitly darwinistic in Adapt: Why succes always starts with failure. We need to be ‘always in beta’, to conduct ‘disciplined pluralism’ (variation + selection) and delegate power to the frontline.
- Gary Hamel, perhaps the most influential managerial theorist right now claims in What Matters now – rather radically – that management is broke and we are better of with informed decision making in the front line. Why? Well, because of the dynamics and complexity of the modern world.
- Then we have the whole Nudge-trend. Thaler and Sunstein argues that we need to compensate for our insufficient cognitive capacities by designing the decisional context to ‘nudge’ us in the ‘rational’ direction without undermining liberty (or changing the incentives – too much).
- Like Watts, Thaler and Sunstein is building on psychologist Daniel Kahnemans thinking that gave him the nobel prize in economy in 2002 and created the field behavioral economy. The basic argument is that our cognitive system was developed for and most constructive when dealing with well known and ‘simple’ decisions. We simply deploy our fast, spontaneous, associative faculties much more than we think – even when dealing with quite complex and important decisions. Kahneman’s latest book Thinking fast and Slow is a must read for everybody who new that Freud, Nietzsche and later embodied cognitive science was right about the hierarchy between rationality and emotional thinking.
- Something that even McKinsey is now warning top management and boards about by arguing for ‘behavioral strategy‘. Their version of depotenzising management is even mentioning future ‘automated’ (read AI) decision processes to compensate for our lack of cognitive ability when faced with complexity. Quite extraordinary.
- And practitioners such as designers have simply just started to deploy evolutionary thinking. Tim Brown of IDEO is now also proposing some sort of ‘Darwinism‘ as a design approach.
- Browns counterpart in Frog Design, Rob Girling, is arguing that ‘designing for preferable outcomes’ (what we call behavioral engineering i /KL7) is the prime concern of 21′st design. Again the reason being our new knowledge on how challenged we are cognitively in a complex world stemming from cognitive science and behavioral economy.
- Lastly, the implicit theoretical foundation of A/B testing that e.g. Wired Magazine just covered is evolutionary to its bone. Google, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon and even the Obama campaign does nothing without systematically testing variations and selecting the best performing variants whether is the color, wording, placement, size or shape of the button.
- Bonus track: Harvard Business Review, September 2011: Embracing complexity Featuring i.e. an investment strategist using complex adaptive systems theory as model for his work.
What do think is going on? Has evolutionary thinking fallen pray to fashion, is it a sign of basic triviality with or has the time simply come for me to write that ultimate book on biomimetics as the panacea for all challenges in this world?