Evolution, homeostasis & CSI - why change is like a diet

'Optimise' is a difficult term to use, because it suggests that there is one, and only one, optimum. Evolution, as beautifully described in Dawkins' 'Climbing Mount Improbable', like us, is very good at finding local optima, which are, 'good enough'.


Evolution is poor at climbing down from one local optimum to another, over all better, local optimum... Actually, that's an understatement, evolution finds it all but impossible to move from one 'good enough' local optimism to another, very close by, but much better one, because it has so much invested in climbing its particular local maximum. It's only a radical, and, usually, fatal defect, a mutation, for example, that allows such optima hopping.

Part of the power of using design to requirements is to allow exactly that, a re-think, radically (and not as in Martin Amis' 'radical rug rethink', which is hardly optimal at all), has a chance also using insights from CSI (though CSI itself is really a requirements gathering exercise) to improve things significantly. It allows us to think up and apply 'mutations' to the organisational behaviour. We'd be wise to learn, from evolution, that such 'mutations' are very, very often fatal.

Life relies on homeostasis. The mass of weight-loss 'solutions' that work, at best, in the short term, is a testament to the power of homeostasis. Our bodies, and those of all living creatures, are full of mechanisms to keep things, our temperature, our blood pressure, our weight, etc., as constant as possible.

Organisations, being full of people, are also keen on homeostasis, and being, possibly, a sort of life form themselves. What's known as 'resistance to change' is actually a sensible, conservative strategy to minimise danger. Radical design (that's 'radical' in the proper sense of 'getting to the roots', not the, understandably, connected meaning of 'extreme' and 'dangerous') is difficult, because it's the organisational equivalent of a weight-loss plan. Short-term discomfort and unpleasantness for the dubious promise of the attainment of a better local optimum, is not attractive.

It's useful to be aware of this as part of the nature of ABC (Attitude, Behaviour and Culture). Resistance is not just subversion, an objection to the new, a political fight against what is clearly a 'Better Thing’; it is part of the nature of successful organisations.

In overcoming resistance, you're actually subverting the homeostasis that keeps the organisation functioning. If you want to succeed, and not be rejected as simply a threat to existence, you need to:

- Make the short term as pleasant as possible

- Make the gain intended as clear, credible and desirable as possible

- Where possible follow existing habits, practices and beliefs - you want to succeed, not alienate

- Be prepared to abandon your initiative if you find out that it's a negative mutation. We never like abandoning things we've convinced ourselves are right, but, be prepared for changes, improvements even, to turn out to be, for, possibly, obscure reasons, bad for the organisation - accept that, as with evolution, this is more likely than not. If 100% of your improvements work and are easily accepted, then you've not being radical, the organisation has the constitution of a jelly and it isn't likely to survive, or you're very good at self-deception (probably all of these).

- Understand what the organisation's local optima are, and why they're there - it's part of what ITIL calls 'Business Relationship Management''. If you don't, you'll not know which is accidental and unimportant happenstance, and which are rocks on which the value of the organisation rests - the two often look, superficially, similar

Subscribe to this RSS feed