“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion, or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle, or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you better start running.” — Thomas Friedman

“Nice metaphor. Bad ethology.” — Bob Lewis

“It sounds like your organization suffers from Not Invented Here Syndrome,” I commented to a client a few years ago.

“Oh, no, we don’t,” he told me. “We have the Not Invented Here by Me Syndrome.”

Which brings us to this week’s Insight from the Biological Sciences for Business Managers.

Stay with me.

Biologists think in terms of species — populations of organisms that are genetically isolated from one another. In general, members of different species can’t interbreed at all. Offspring of the exceptions, such as mules, offspring of a horse and a donkey, are infertile.

Research into human evolution suggests this is an overly simplistic perspective. In our own distant past, members of different hominid species — like Homo sapiens, Homo neanderthalensis (Neanterthals), and Homo denisova (Denisovans) — could and did interbreed, producing fertile offspring whose genetic traces can be found in modern humans (“Denisovans Emerged from the Shadows,” Bruce Bower, Science News, 12/21/2019).

Our theory of the corporation is something like the older, more simplistic view of species. Substitute formal knowledge, informal ideas, and well-honed processes and practices for genes, as Richard Dawkins proposed when he originally coined the term “meme.” Then substitute patents, trademarks, copyrights, non-compete and non-disclosure agreements for the biological barriers to interspecies gene sharing.

Back in the halcyon days of the Microsoft vs Apple wars, Apple was the more innovative of the two. Under Steve Jobs it “innovated” the borrowing of Xerox Parc Labs’ research into GUIs years before Microsoft borrowed the idea from Apple.

But following that initial borrowing, Jobs established a core business culture that was rooted in all innovations having to be Apple inventions.

Meanwhile, Bill Gates’ business culture endorsed adopting any and every good idea that wasn’t bolted down … and, if we’re all honest with each other, good ideas that had been bolted down, but with too flimsy a bolt.

Apple’s aficionados were and are more passionately loyal than Microsoft’s customers. But in IT, Microsoft matters. Apple’s products? They connect to the IT portfolio but aren’t important to it.

Which leads to the question, has the corporations-as-species, IP-as-gene business model outlived its value?

The answer, as Scott Lee and I proposed in The Cognitive Enterprise, is yes. It’s time to replace it with a more fluid model of corporate evolution.

Some of this is making a virtue of necessity. Organizations are increasingly permeable. It’s luck that permeability has more advantages than disadvantages.

New and promising ideas, methods, and practices are readily available on your nearby internet. But there are barriers to adapting and adopting them. Based on my unscientific sample, it appears the most important are cultural. More specifically:

Incuriosity: Some people find new ideas intrinsically interesting. More fall on the other extreme. They figure they’ve learned what they need to know. It works. Learning something new, especially if I don’t need to know it to do my job? That takes far more mental energy than I’m willing to expend.

Fear: The way we do things now works well enough. The new alternative might fail. The personal benefit from championing a successful improvement is dwarfed by the punishments imposed on those whose names are on a failure.

Internal disqualification: One reason I’m a management consultant is that I’m allowed to be an expert. Employees rarely are, for two probable reasons. The first is peer pressure (“Who do you think you are, telling the rest of us you’ve thought of a better way of doing things?”).

The second is pricing. Companies pay outside experts more than employees, whether the outside experts are consultants or industry analysts like Gartner and Forrester. The chain of logic: The more I pay for something, the more it must be worth.

Channel erosion: Once upon a time, associations were popular. They met regularly, providing social outlets for like-minded professionals, opportunities for personal networking, and the ability to exchange ideas from and to credible sources — peers who had actually tried these things, made them work, and had no need to hide the potholes they hit on the road to success, or the limitations they discovered when they finished implementing.

For one reason or another, few of these associations are still flourishing, and the virtual alternatives — on-line discussion groups — haven’t filled the gap. Why? Probably because they’re neither local nor sociable.

And, they’re limited to what participants can express by typing.

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To be continued next week.