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Saturday
Oct272001

Chapter 3 - The March of the Red Queen  

The March of the Red QueenOne of Charles Darwin's most important observations was that nothing changes simply for the sake of change, but instead change (evolution) only comes as a response to outside forces.  It is these outside forces, or threats that drive the process.
 
And while Darwin is correctly credited with brilliant insights into the world of nature and the pressures of competition on individuals, his idea was not entirely new.

Thousands of years before Darwin made his observations from the British ship, Beagle, Chinese mythology outlined the same principle of forced change in a social setting.

In Journey to the West, one of the principal characters is a mischievous magical creature named Monkey. Monkey's adventures are many and colorful, but not all of them show Monkey to be a heroic figure.

In one tale, Monkey becomes a king and like so many rulers with unlimited powers, he becomes thoroughly bored. Deciding he needs some excitement as well as a little exercise, he begins to build and train an army. Not really interested in more conquests, the challenge for Monkey is to train the army for his own enjoyment and in that spirit, he equips his men with wooden swords.

The trouble starts when Monkey finally realizes that to an outsider, his training exercises might not look so innocent after all. In fact, they could be interpreted as a prelude to war. And of course, should his neighbors decide to attack first, he cannot have a "toy" army armed with wooden weapons. Monkey rushes to rearm his force with real weapons and his military games begin again, but this time they are in deadly earnest. Monkey finds himself bored no longer.

If the idea of an arms race taking place over three thousand years ago seems disturbingly modern, it shouldn't. As Darwin correctly pointed out, these competitions have been going on since the dawn of time.

But it was Lewis Carroll, not Darwin who first came up with the literary idea of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland.

"Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.

If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that."

[said the Red Queen to Alice].

Beginning with evolutionary biologist Leigh Van Valen in 1973, modern scientists enthusiastically embraced the concept of a scenario or theorem in which everyone (and everything) must run faster just to stay in the same place.

Think of it as a "biological"arms race. These contests are not limited to biology or to armies. The world of business is no different. Outside pressures and threats (real or imagined) force firms to become more competitive and to rethink strategy constantly. Even though most of us don't really think about the changes in our own businesses coming about through these types of pressures,they happen all the same.

Every business has its own versions of "arms races" in which competitors fight each other in a game of winner take all in the name of profits. Jack Welch made this clear in his tenure at GE. His mandate to all department heads was to destroy their own businesses before the competition destroyed it for them. In fact, he carried this to such an extreme that early in his career he earned the name "Neutron Jack". The word was that when he finished a restructuring, the buildings still stood, but the people were gone.


 

 

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