TCS Daily

The End of Corporate Darwinism...

By Dominic Basulto - December 21, 2005 12:00 AM

The debate over the constitutionality of teaching intelligent design in public school classrooms has sparked a vigorous public exchange about evolution and creationism, the split between church and state, and the difference between religion and science. Seemingly every major media publication has already weighed in on what the teaching of intelligent design ID could mean for the future of the nation, especially when it comes to religion, science and education. Well, nowhere will the teaching of intelligent design have a more pronounced and lasting effect than in the corridors of Corporate America.

While ID was dealt a setback this week in Pennsylvania -- as a judge tossed out an effort to force it into public schools -- ID is still gaining favor in Kansas and elsewhere. If Intelligent Design gains further momentum, corporate PR and marketing machines across the nation will have to retool their press releases, marketing brochures and advertising campaigns to include principles of intelligent design, rather than corporate Darwinism.

Think about it. With the exception of the sports metaphor (e.g. the "slam dunk," "two-minute drill," "level playing field"), Darwinian terms and principles have probably transformed corporate jargon more than any other field of human endeavor. We talk about "organizational DNA," "talent pools" and the "genetic makeup" of a great leader. When discussing the competitive world of business, it's impossible to avoid to envision business as anything else than "survival of the fittest." Business magazines rely on the ingrained notion of Darwinism to explain changes in competitive position: losers are gradually "weeded out" and business is a zero-sum, winner-take-all game in which only the strong survive. Competitive strategy doesn't just change -- it "evolves" in response to "competitive pressures" within a broader process of "natural selection." Industry leaders are referred to as the "800-pound gorillas" of the "corporate jungle."

So what metaphors might an intelligent design-friendly corporation champion? (At the very least, it must be realized, corporate marketing departments will have to "teach the controversy.")

First and foremost, let's forget about boilerplate terms like "survival of the fittest" and "natural selection." For that matter, there will also no longer be mention of version 1.0 or version 2.0 or version 2.2 -- as if products somehow "evolve" over time in response to consumer demand! In the brave new world of intelligent design, the notion of "limited resources" and the "daily struggle to survive" will be replaced by a different notion: a "privileged planet" ideally suited for complex corporate life. All features of modern corporate life will be conveniently explained by means of an almighty creator and intelligent designer, who put an astonishing amount of care and attention into creating key industries and product offerings.

Secondly, forget about describing markets as "jungles" or "deserts" or "oceans" or any other imagery evocative of nature (and natural selection). That means terms like "ecosystems," too. We'll soon forget that members of any industry are part of an ecosystem of partners, just like we'll forget that competitive strategy "evolves" to meet a "competitive threat." Instead, prepare yourself for comparisons to the microscopic world of the cell, full of super-complex corporations powered by efficient, machine-like bacterial flagella.

Finally, trendy terms like "organizational DNA" or "emergent intelligence" or "genetic makeup" -- or any other term that hints at the transmitting of genes across generations -- will be replaced by terms that hint at the "unmistakable hallmark of design." Within the tech sector, that means an end to any mention of "legacy systems." All features and products will henceforth be explained by intelligent design: after all, an all-powerful intelligent designer of business would never have created the conditions for a legacy IT system that failed to work as it was intended.

In the end, business magazines will be scrubbed clean of offending sentences like: "In a struggle for market share against competitors like Google and Yahoo, Microsoft's corporate strategy has once again evolved to take advantage of strategic adaptations in order to remain the 800-pound-gorilla of the corporate IT jungle." Goodbye Charles Darwin, hello Intelligent Designer.

The new intelligent design paradigm will result in an entirely new writing style: "Microsoft has put an astonishing amount of care and design into creating an irreducibly complex array of product offerings that bear all the hallmarks of intelligent design. On this privileged planet, Microsoft has captured the very essence of complex microscopic processes better than other intelligently-designed businesses such as Yahoo and Google." That is, of course, unless the flying spaghetti monsters get Microsoft first.

Dominic Basulto is a frequent contributor to TCS and the Editor of the FORTUNE Business Innovation blog.


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