To Dream, To Believe LO11557
Tue, 24 Dec 1996 11:12:02 -0500

Replying to LO11548 --

Jan, thank you so much for your insight and passion.

While your entire message is worthy of comment, I'll only touch on one

> I believe that organizations are governed by the "laws" of evolution, as
> all life is, working through "punctured equilibrium": making sudden shifts
> in numbers and types of species and then selecting, testing and
> multiplying the succesful again. At the same time the face of the world
> changes, (as for instance bisons co-created the priaries (or the cars
> created the traffic system)). And the current "organisational dinosaures
> (remember, how they used to laugh at mamals)" ("organo structuriens
> functiens", the functionally structured organization) are being eliminated
> or are adapting to a wonderful disaster called "information technology".
> You see it as you read this.

This is a powerful paragraph. . .

Organizations are governed by the "laws of evolution," and they do have
their own "genetic" (i.e. memetic) code that governs the evolutionary
process. You mention that all life is working through "punctured
equillibrium" that allows it to make sudden shifts in the type and number
of species.

When I was a kid the topic of evolution was not discussable in my home. My
parents were staunch creationist, and so to them any reference to
evolution was to demean the majesty and power of God. Interestingly I have
a couple of uncles who are Professors in the physical sciences, and
they've started a four month long E-Mail debate with the family about
evolution vs. creation . My point is, however, that until rather recently
I was largely ignorant of the ideas behind evolution.

As I've studied evolution -- to understand how it applies to organizations
-- I've come to the conclusion that evolution is really about homeostasis.
For a couple of years I've disdained those who I thought had a homeostatic
existence; how unrewarding and limiting, I reasoned, to achieve a certain
level of proficiency and ability and then spend the rest of your life at
that level. But that type of existence is not homeostatis; it is
stagnation. . .because the world around us is changing so rapdily, when we
don't adapt to it (or evolve) we're left behind. . .forced to live our
lives less effective than we could. Those who are trying to live a
"stable" life will begin to move from order (i.e. the ability to
effectively live in their environment) to disorder (i.e. ineffectively
living in their environment). As a result, those who live this way
continually lose their ability to achieve meaningful results. This is a
practice that leads to extinction.

Homeostatic learning, however, is what leads to evolution. The human
nervous system (and sensory system, if you wish to make a distinction
between the two) is what allows us to adapt to changing conditions. Our
body sweats when it becomes too hot; we get goose bumps when its too cold;
our bodies are constantly adjusting to changing environmental conditions.
A living organism will evolve when there have been long-term changes in
the environment; such evolution is necessary for survival. In other words,
the whole purpose of evolution is to allow a living organism to achieve

This may be obvious to everyone else on the list, but because of the way I
was raised, it is new knowledge.

Organizations evolve to achieve a homeostatic existence. Our evolution
leads to new conditions which may require more evolution. Our environment
exists "independent" of us (that is, some type of environment would be
there without us), but the way in which we evolve influences how the
environment will evolve. As you pointed out, we created the traffic system
because we evolved a certain way; now we must continue to evolve so the
traffic system won't continue to be a bottleneck. That type of evolution
will, more than likely, influence our environment, creating an entirely
new set of problems that will force us to evolve once again.

Our organizations are seeking a homeostatic existence; evolution is
absolutely necessary to achieve that type of existence. We run into
trouble when we fail to recognize how environmental changes are
threatening our homeostatic existence.

Which then raises a number of interesting questions:

What is an organizations "sensory system" that allows it to detect
environmental changes?

What is an organizations "nervous system" that it can adjust, in
real-time, and evolve over a long period of time, to new conditions?

How can the entire organization adapt to new conditions in unison?

Again thanks for your message, I enjoyed reading it.


Benjamin B. Compton

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