Sunday, January 18, 2009

What Darwin Can Teach Business Leaders

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his seminal work, “On The Origin Of The Species”. His theory is now associated with business through the concept of “Darwinian Economics” — which claims that organizations that are best able to adapt are the ones most likely to survive, particularly in a recessionary climate.

In an FT piece by Jonathan Guthrie, he applies Darwinian theory to the current economic crisis. It’s why Waterford Wedgewood failed, and Woolworths; why bail-outs of industry are contrary to nature; and why strength and intelligence are less valuable than responsiveness to change.
But there is another important lesson for you, as a business leader, to learn from Charles Darwin. That is to use the power of observation.

Many managers are so busy making decisions, analyzing problems and seeking answers that they pay no attention to simply observing.

Darwin, on the other hand, spent much of his career observing. He spent six years, for example, dissecting and describing — in eye-watering detail — the structure of barnacles.

If you are observing you cannot be analyzing, and vice versa. It was Darwin’s observations that formed the basis of his idea — the idea that changed the world.

Observation requires getting out there, suspending your beliefs and simply taking note — Darwin’s five years on the Beagle trip involved him taking thousands of samples of various species. It cannot be done from behind a desk through reports.

How does this translate to business? A retail client of mine grew sales of a complex product range by developing prototypes of many packaging variations, putting them on the shelf in a single store and observing how customers interacted with the product.

He believes that he saved months of time by eschewing normal customer research and simply observing, in real time, actual customer behavior.

How much time do you spend on the front-line observing your team or your customers rather than analysing second or third-hand data?


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