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Evolution versus revolution

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Evolution versus revolution

Scott Miker

When I was earning my MBA I took a class on leadership. In it, we discussed the difference between evolutionary change in an organization versus revolutionary change in an organization.

When it comes to the organization evolving over time, the key is to make sure that the company improves and gets better and keeps taking steps in the right direction. It is a much more subtle type of change but incredibly important.

Some companies do a great job of evolving over time. They figure out areas that they can grow and continue to make small changes to improve their ability to make money. Most companies are currently changing through evolutionary change, either positively or negatively.

But occasionally evolutionary change is not enough. I worked at a company going through revolutionary change. We lost our key value proposition due to a change in the legislature. Suddenly the key benefit we provided was stripped away.

The leaders decided that we needed to completely redesign the company. We needed to walk away from our core competency and develop new core competencies. It was an exciting time for the organization but one that was filled with all the risk, chaos, terror, and nervousness of trying something completely different.

What I have learned over the years is that many leaders automatically reach for revolutionary change. They found it easier to frame the current situation as dire and then “rally the troops.” They create a crisis and then work to get everyone to buy in to the need for drastic change.

This helped get buy-in. They were able to completely transform an organization. There are plenty examples of companies that went through revolutionary change and ended up better than they were prior.

But most companies that successfully go through evolutionary change are not noticed in the same way. They tend to silently go about their business getting better and stronger along the way. Nobody tends to take notice until they become a leader in their industry. Because they aren’t taking great risks, there are more companies that do this successfully, meaning the uniqueness of a company using evolutionary change to grow goes away.

In our personal improvement journey we have the same options. We can go through evolutionary change or revolutionary change.

If you find yourself homeless, addicted to drugs, committing crimes regularly etc. then you probably should opt to radically change up your life. Small changes are necessary but you need major change, and quickly. This is extremely risky. Most of the time it just doesn’t work out well.

But most of us are not in that situation. We haven’t created a life that is in complete turmoil. We probably have things that we do well and things that we don’t do as well. We have strengths and weaknesses.

In this case, evolutionary change is the better bet. Instead of throwing everything you have away for something new, you keep what you have and simply continue to build upon it.

It is significantly less risky. There isn’t the same sense of urgency to change everything immediately so we can slowly and systematically adjust the thoughts and actions in our life to be better.

Before you set about changing everything and relying on revolutionary change, look at the situation and see if there is a much better approach. Can you continue to grow, improve and evolve instead of having to completely redesign your life in a very drastic way?