Dec 012011

Maybe nobody’s noticed (maybe nobody cares), but there is a tension between creation and evolution that goes on in business even without invoking the giant scientific-belief system debate.  And, it permeates right down to the educational process for business and organizational administration.  What’s worse is that unlike the much larger debate, where there are clear divides and most people who contemplate it for even a moment tend to fall into one of the two camps, in business and organizations the same person can and will hold diametrically opposing positions from moment to moment depending on what (s)he is doing.  In brief, it goes like this:

Management education and the practice of developing business plans, etc. especially within large and established organizations tends to follow the creationist approach.  Think it through to some conclusion (i.e., a successful business) based on the materials available and the circumstances observable.  Plan for the successful achievement of that “business case.” Implement the plan to “create” the successful outcome.  This is decidedly creationist–“intelligent design” if you will.  And, at least where I’ve observed, there is even a “religion” around these articles of faith that the end can be achieved if you plan it well enough.

On the other hand, there are those who are occasionally raised upon shoulders (can you say “Jobs”), who represent a different point of view–at least for a while.  That point of view is somewhat evolutionist and, unlike the larger philosophical perspective that looks backward in time to create a coherent path for how evolution happened to get “us” to this point, in business and organizations evolution does not yet know the end point. But, the perspective and logic is the same: there is a starting point and a hoped for direction and end state.  Ultimately, however, a product or a business or some organization is given life and “free will,” and then is set out into the conditions of the world to grow and develop as the conditions of the market, competition, and funding allow.  Without a doubt, the intent has direction and a goal.  But, and this is key, the response to those changing conditions may (often does) move the product or business in ways unanticipated at time zero.  In short, the product or business “evolves.”

Which is right?  Who knows but I would suggest that the path to greatness is littered with the corpses of the creationists.  Few businesses and organizations exist at any stage in the exact condition assumed at the outset.  Some are close to what the founder or visionary saw; others are massively different.  What is sure, in both cases is that the mind has to make sure there is internal consistency.  So, those who believe in the creationist approach will adjust and evolve but conveniently forget the original designs (perhaps “revise” is a softer and more palatable choice) and paint the bulls-eye around the arrow at any given time.  The evolutionists tend to be those in full apology mode:  when something hasn’t gone exactly as anticipated and changes have to be made, even before success is determined, many become evolutionists to accommodate the earlier “failure”–at least according to creationist rules.

Will this change?  I doubt it.  I doubt it will even become more acceptable and transparent.  There’s too much at stake and too little to squash the conveniently malleability of self-/organizational-delusion.

And who am I to change it?  I’m just saying…

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