Evolutionary Change and Organizational Innovation: Implications for Coach-Based Consultants and Their Leader Clients

In the field of biology there is a classic (sometimes controversial) mathematical model called the Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium which provides some rich insight for not only those interested in evolutionary change, but also those who are coaching leaders facing the challenge of introducing innovation and change in their organization. The Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium model works backwards with regard to evolutionary change—it is about the five key assumptions that lead to NON-change in terms of biological evolution.

The first assumption is that there are no mutations in a population. This would mean that all of the genes that form the basis of all life forms are the same for all members of one species. There is no room, in other words, for variations or mistakes. The second assumption is that any specific population is isolated. Individual members of a specific population (community) can’t migrate into or emigrate out of that specific community. The members of any species within a specific community can only breed with individuals from the same community.

The third assumption that would block biological evolution concerns the size of the population. The population has to be very large for the blocking of evolution to occur—leading to the averaging out of differences among members of any one species. If the community is small then any differences will make a big difference (big frog in a small pond), whereas in a large community, differences will be absorbed and not have much of an impact. The fourth Hardy-Weinberg assumption leading to equilibrium is about mating preferences. There will be little evolution if mating is random—anyone from the other gender will do and there is not much discrimination. If members of a species show preferences for those of the opposite sex who are bigger, stronger, prettier, faster, smarter or hairier, then evolution is more likely to occur. The final assumption to be made is closely related to the fourth. It concerns survival and reproduction in a specific population. Evolution is unlikely to occur if everyone in the community has an equal chance of survival and an equal opportunity, as a surviving adult, to mate and produce offspring.

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 coach-based consultant 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 a coach-based consultant?

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