Speciation & co-evolution

September 8, 2009

Gala Dinner: Bresaola con rucola e grana, Verdure grigliate, Insalata; followed by Gnocchetti sardi gorgonzola e noci with Crespelle al radicchio; followed by Tagliata di manzo al rosmarino in letto di rucola e patate arrosto; completed by Mouuse di ciccolat in cialda con salsa ai frutti di bosco

A good afternoon, visiting an olive press and a lemon grove – traditional tools shown in the photograph – with good wine, good company, a walk on along the lake and a gelato to finish. Back at the ranch and final session of the day. Here we have David Levinthal looking at issues within management literature. Management guru’s as cult leaders appears on the first slide so this may well be fun.

Path dependence: constraints (evolutionary economists), enabling (dynamics capabilities) and adjacency in opportunity space, which means we have to ask what are the accessible states and how do we measure distance. Related issues of micro-processes and macro outcomes. How do we reconcile periods of rapid change in technology with the inertia of underlying skills and capabilities and routines? Punctuated Equilibrium is used naively in management literature where applied to a single level of analysis. Continuity in lineage development with possibility of discrete change. Concepts of steady advance and breakthrough change. Multiple interesting statements of the problem here. Hopeful monstrosities and macro mutations an especially good one. Issues of concealment of crucial antecedents (Basallia 1988)

Moving from definition to ways of understanding. Talks about speciation in technological development. The porting of a technology at a point in time into a new application domain represents exaptation. This may lead to a possible invasion of the original niche or other niches. talking at length about Marconi and Hertz. Marconi’s interest in transatlantic communication is important. The need for a more sensitive receiver in turn drives AT&T’s need for a repeater which in turn leads to the electron amplifier and the Vacuum Tube. No one was spending a dollar on it for voice communication, but guess what! Then we get to radio telephony. Playing music on that, ships pick it up then we get the first radio station. Ugly monsters going through rapid evolution solving contextual problems creating novelty.

You don’t get the mobile phone without FM, but FM did not have the mobile phone in mind.

Now lets look at that in organisational transformation. Punctuated equilibrium has been proposed, long periods of stability marked by short bursts of change (in my experience the change is annual with is regular not punctuated!) Argues for nested levels of selection, use of environmental niches, the birth and death or organisations. Also applies to selection of projects within the organisation. INTEL case driving from DRAM to microprocessor. Resource allocation rules meant that change in strategy sort of happened.

Finishing with issues of firm diversification as a speciation process to help reconcile seemingly conflicting empirical findings

  • forms tend to diversity into related domains
  • Very little of the performance of business units within a diversified firm can be attributed to their corporate identity.

How to reconcile? Firms can apply their resources and capabilities to related domains or niches subject to a distinct set of selection forces. This relatedness predicts the likelihood of speciation events, but since speciation necessitates the presence of divergent selection pressures, there is no reason to anticipate performance linages across the distinct forms (business units). Speciation and exaptation are critical links between micro-level processes and macroevolutionary change.

Questions and discussion

Geoffrey suggests that this is very different from exaptation in biology as it can be instant if there is a niche. Response is elaborate, but one of the key points is that organisations ways of working often stay unchanged despite the change product.

John on difference between cultural selection and natural selection, excellent question leads into mine as follows: Cultural adaption not as fast as artefact change. Ideation based culture appears not to change, despite radical change of artefacts. At the time management cults given a superficial appearance of change. No satisfactory answer here (to me or John), not sure question was understood. Will have to work on that for tomorrow’s presentation.

Discussion is now wide-ranging, interesting but difficult to post coherently, also I am part of it so more difficult to take notes. Selection of, against selection for comes up a few times. In a complex system there must be communication of a sort which creates conditional responses and those are replicators (not necessarily sexual! can be by diffusion). Interesting question – does a niche exist before you get into it? Trees falling in forests come to mind but that is inappropriate. Each niche maybe creates the potential for future niches.

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