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Mike Richman

Operations

Evolution and Quality Improvement

How people and organizations adapt and change

Published: Thursday, January 4, 2018 - 13:03

Many people don’t understand how the theory of evolution works. There is this notion that change somehow just occurs naturally over the course of geological time. What some fail to grasp is that change does not simply happen. It occurs because there is some external pressure that forces adaptation through natural selection.

Natural selection was defined by Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species (Signet; reprint, anniversary edition, 2003) as, “the principle by which each slight variation (of a trait), if useful, is preserved.” These “slight variations,” aka mutations, are happening continually, but what determines their relative utility is the scope of the pressure or pressures that are operative at the time. As these changes occur in the ecosystem, some, or at least one, of these variations will hopefully lead to an outcome better than that of the current state, and will infer certain evolutionary (i.e., reproductive) advantages to the members of the species that adapt them. In this way, new species are born, forged in a constructive crucible of otherwise destructive change.

The alternative is that species that cannot adapt quickly or effectively enough risk dying out. Many do, in fact, die out and go extinct, but those that adapt to change (sometimes relatively fast change, as per Stephen Jay Gould’s theory of punctuated equilibrium) can rapidly flourish.

W. Edwards Deming never actually wrote, “It is not necessary to change; survival is not mandatory.” He probably said similar things in his seminars, but this exact quote is missing from his canon, which is a pity because it fits in so perfectly with the notion that adaptation and survival are not dictated by a sense of fairness, judged by some benign being with an opinion of justice and goodwill. In the sense that “decisions” are made via natural selection, they are driven by the cold, emotionless logic of relevant benefit. Those changes that work and assist in dealing with new and emerging pressures are “good” and are rewarded; those that don’t help are “bad” and may contribute to mass extinctions.

All of this allows us to better consider the nature of personal and organizational change. But unlike evolution in the natural world, which has no sense or spirit of intentionality, there are rational actors within adaptation... and those actors are you and me. We ourselves determine where, how, and when we seek to evolve, and thereby chart a course to achieve our objectives for growth and improvement.

That aside, there’s much in common between the process of natural selection for biological change and for personal growth and organizational improvement. Consider, for example, the fact that pressure works. Don’t misunderstand—I don’t mean that top-down pressure exerted from management is an effective way of “forcing” workers to improve. Deming (yup, him again) proved in his red bead experiment that a flawed system will produce a flawed output, regardless of how much invective (or praise) is arbitrarily heaped upon those working within the system.

By “pressure,” I mean the organic tension that arises through market forces. If your company is growing, developing new lines of business, hiring more people, and making more money, it’s likely that the pressure to change will be less (or, more likely, it’s because the pressure to stay ahead of the competition is working to keep you successful). On the other hand, if your organization is stagnating, doing the same old thing in the same old way, laying people off, and breaking even or losing money, the pressure to change increases.

This goes for individuals as well. If you’re moving ahead in your career, great... be sure to keep the pressure on by always improving your skills and seeking out new challenges. If your career is stalled, however, don’t make matters worse by avoiding the pressure to change. This is the time when you most need to tune into the slight variations in your habits that can offer significant long-term advantages for you... even if many (or most) of those “mutations” don’t work out.

Now let’s return to punctuated equilibrium. If natural selection is the combustion engine that drives evolution, punctuated equilibrium is its warp-drive successor that moves the process along in the fastest, most efficiently possible way. Gould’s theory, originally posited in his (along with Niles Eldredge’s) 1972 essay, “Punctuated Equilibria: An Alternative to Phyletic Gradualism,” states that rare and rapid events are the primary drivers of evolutionary change. Now when I say, “rapid,” understand that this means “rapid” on a geological scale, like 50,000 or so years. In the fossil record, that’s a blink of an eye.

Punctuated equilibrium means that sudden, massive, and extraordinarily challenging events like the start (or end) of an ice age, an asteroid or comet impact, or the eruption of a supervolcano, can create the conditions in which the quick onset of change sweeps clean the established order.

Some 66 million years ago, an asteroid measuring approximately 10 km in diameter struck what is now the Yucatan. This impact, referred to by scientists as the K-T extinction event, quickly eliminated approximately 80 percent of all the species walking on, flying above, or swimming beneath the surface of the earth, doing particular damage to the largest animals with the highest energy needs. Dinosaurs, in other words. Smaller, more nimble creatures, needing less energy, willing to survive on insects and roots, and able to burrow underground, did better. Among these were a group of warm-blooded creatures similar to rats, most of whom gave birth to live young. Mammals, in other words... which led, eventually, to us.

The lesson here is that change often comes at you fast and hard, and that big challenges mean equally big opportunities. When a figurative meteor strikes your industry, the behemoths have the most to lose. These changes could be things like automation, changing customer habits or preferences, significantly different pricing or distribution models, or just about any type of major disruption or dislocation. If your organization is the T. Rex of an industry that’s just been essentially nuked from orbit, you need to immediately assess what’s changed and how your operational structure can help you dominate the new business model. You likely have an advantage in market share and cash on hand, so take advantage of them. Just don’t be tied to the old “we’ve always done it this way” type of thinking. That’s where those tiny little mammals scurrying around at your feet will beat you every time. You need to act like one of those mammals.

If, on the other hand, your company is the small mammal in this scenario, use your nimbleness to take advantage of the new realities on the ground. Try different things. Fail forward. Learn. Punctuated equilibrium can be your friend, because you have less to risk in a rapidly changing world.

The same goes for you as an individual. When everything turns upside down, what you know matters less than how quickly you can come to know something new. Try different things. Fail forward. Learn. Remember that the struggle for survival is the surest way to grow, and change, and improve. If you’re afraid to take bold leaps, try tiny steps. Any movement to confront and overcome your established limitations and adapt to new realities is positive for your career, not to mention your life. Organizations that can harness the energy of those individuals will garner positive benefits as well.

The pressures that drive evolutionary change aren’t easy to handle for organizations or individuals. In a sense, it may seem more comfortable to cling to your organization during these moments of crisis, but such comfort is an illusion. Remember the analogy of the dinosaur and the rat. There may be safety in numbers in certain circumstances, but with size often comes risk. Overcoming a reliance on “we’ve/I’ve always done it this way” gives yourself and your company the best possible chance to pass your professional DNA along to the next generation.

Discuss

About The Author

Mike Richman’s picture

Mike Richman

Comments

Evolution and Quality

Mike,

With all due respect, I do not understand how a quality professional can espouse the false assumptions of evolution?

The false theory of evolution has no statistically sound data to back it up. Everything you sited in your article is pure speculation based upon assumptions and circular reasoning. One example is the geologic column – nowhere on earth does it exist. Chronological dating techniques used to develop this column are wroth with uncertainty such that an error analysis results in large error bars rendering it meaningless and it lacks a chronological standard which results in a bias of deep time.

The notion of mutation (or improvement by natural selection) is meaningless as well. The reality is that mutations are a loss or rearrangement of information and never (due to the second law of thermodynamics) does a mutation result in new information. Now, adaptation happens and is a normal process which explains the variation within kinds but not one kind to another. A species or kind has all the genetic information (endowed by its creator) it needs to adapt to its changing environment -resulting in the various types of dogs, cats, spiders etc. Man, has all the information he needs to overcome the second law of thermodynamics and improve processes and is not currently evolving.      W. Edwards Deming was right, even though he never actually wrote it, “It is not necessary to change; survival is not mandatory.” The basic truth is we need to make all processes as efficient as possible, minimize waste and work together.  That is be good stewards of this earth. Let’s get away from this nonsense that CO2 is causing global warming.

By the way when are you going to reply to my comments in the we always have Paris article?

https://www.qualitydigest.com/inside/management-column/we-ll-always-have-paris-060817.html#comment-5877

 

Concerning the nonscientist Darwin and the title of his book (of speculation) - The Origin of Species (Signet; reprint, anniversary edition, 2003) – you neglect to state the whole title:

“The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection on the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”.

I just want to point out that it was the scientists of Darwin’s day that espoused such racial themes without any evidence what so ever and merely used their imagination to come up with such nonsense.

Consensus via intelligentsia is not proof nor is their recommended course of action the most prudent. Need I remind you that this resulted in Margret Sangers’ – planned parenthood (eugenics) and the desire to cull humans of non-whites and propagating to Hitler and his Theozoology and his desire to cull the human race along with Stalin and Mao up to the awful ruling of the supreme court in Roe Vs Wade that, since a fetus is not human and it is the right of the mother, abortion is now legal. It seems to me that most evolutionists don’t understand that life continues at conception and we develop, independent of the mother, as sentient human beings (one race with many variations – created equal) and everyone must agree that abortion is the murder of sentient human beings.

Finally, concerning “Gould’s theory, originally posited in his (along with Niles Eldredge’s) 1972 essay, “Punctuated Equilibria: An Alternative to Phyletic Gradualism,””. This is mere speculation and is nonscientific and should not be stated as if it was a scientific fact.  The truth is that this theory and I do mean theory is based upon the assumption that evolution is true to begin with.  There is no statistically sound data to support the defunct geologic column to make any reliable conclusions from it.

So, the challenge to evolutionists is to provide a standard column that is supported by proper calibration and error analysis.  That is, state the error associated with your assumptions with error bars and confidence intervals.  

Please respond

EJM

Response

Thanks again for an interesting comment... I did read and respond to your comments on my prior article as well. I stated a couple of times here that both Darwin's as well as Gould's (and Eldridge's) work were theories. They happen to be theories that I believe, but they are theories nonetheless. However, my intention in writing this column was really to address how people and organizations can adapt and change, and to help readers see that earth-shaking paradigm shifts actually contain opportunities as well as challenges. The theories mentioned make nice framing devices for that very human-centric discussion, and hopefully that broader perspective resonated with those of you in the QD audience.

Evolution and Quality response

Sorry Mike, but both of your responses were non-answers and the theories you used, that you believe to be true, really are not good examples. They might be good science fiction but that is all they are.  I think you do your readership a dis-service by using a false theory to address how people and organizations can adapt and change when, in reality, people do not have to adapt/change they merely have to work together to produce product in the most efficient manner possible using the 7 tools of quality to achieve said goal. I don’t understand how the murder of sentient human beings is not human-centric? What I think you meant was - “a Humanism – centric discussion” since Humanism is out to cull the human population to avoid the earth-shaking paradigm shift of CO2 induced climate change or global warming.

I recently read an article “President’s Tweet Trumps Gore’s on Climate Change”: http://mailchi.mp/cornwallalliance/presidents-tweet-trumps-gores-on-climate-change?e=aa0b85ad9f

I am going to use this article to show that the evolutionists’ claim of climate change can be reduced to absurdity (Reductio ad Absurdum):

 Assume P is true –  increasing levels of CO2is causing global warming.

From this assumption, deduce that Q is true – our models (based upon evolutionism) show that increasing levels of CO2 will increase temperatures to unacceptable levels in the future. 

Also, deduce that Q is false – according to Al Gore - our models (based upon evolutionism) also show that increasing levels of CO2 will decreasetemperatures in the future.

Thus, P implies both Q and not Q (a contradiction, which is necessarily false).

Therefore, P itself must be false - Reductio ad Absurdum.

Here is an expert from that article to demonstrate my point:

“In Florida over the holidays, President Trump tweeted“In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!”

Al Gore—the leading global warming propagandist—fearing a collapse of his warming hypothesis, tweeted that the recent record lows are due to global warming. That drew biting derision from real climate scientist Dr. Roy W. Spencer in an imaginary interchange on his Facebook page:

“ME: So, warm winters, cold winters, snowy winters, and no-snow winters are all predictions of global warming? “MR. GORE: Yes, that is correct. “ME: Are you aware how foolish that sounds to many people? “MR. GORE: I am aware that there are deniers of the current climate crisis we are in, yes. “ME: Ugh.”

Trump’s tweet should surprise no one. During his presidential run, Trump promised to take down climate policies that posed a threat to development and didn’t serve the well-being of American citizens.” - - - Proponents, led by the United Nations, claimed that unless we reduce carbon dioxide emission from fossil fuels, global temperature will rise to dangerous levels.

However, the alarmist claims are based on faulty computer models, which in the past 39 years have predicted two-thirds more warming than actually observed.”

 My comment – Garbage in = Garbage out

Need I say More?

EJM

P.S. – if you are really interested I will show you where the model or forcing equations fall apart.