The mechanisms of evolution are the same whether the subject of evolution is a life form or the elements of an economy. These mechanisms - copy; differentiate; select; and amplify; repeated over many iterations - occur in all instances of evolution. Beinhocker demonstrates that the process by which "Physical Technology" and "Social Technology" have developed in the history of human economic activity is evolution. It's not just like evolution, it actually is evolution, with similar characteristics advantages and drawbacks that arise from it.
One of the most relevant sections of what is after all a fairly dense 600+ pages, occurs at the end of the book. Beinhocker turns his attention to how businesses need to behave within the very rapid cycle of innovation that now characterises the economy. Evolution is taking place outside organisations whatever organisations do. Whether it happens within an organisation however, and thereby enables the products and processes of the organisation to evolve sufficiently to survive and thrive in the new context, depends on the culture of the organisation - whether it is an "adaptive organisation". Rigid hierarchical organisations can survive if their context (market) is either controlled by the organisation itself or changing only very slowly. When enough change occurs to allow new organisations to compete, such rigid organisations disappear. In fast moving markets only "fit" organisations can survive in the long term.
Here is Beinhocker's summary of the characteristics of adaptive organisations that can survive in today's markets:
- Performance norms
- Performance orientation – people go the extra mile, continuous improvement expected
- Honesty – people are honest, transparent and face reality
- Meritocracy – rewards are set on the basis of merit
- Cooperating norms
- Mutual trust – trusting and trustworthy
- Reciprocity – the golden rule
- Shared purpose – common goals above personal
- Innovating norms
- Non-hierarchical – quality of the idea over status of proposer
- Openness – curious, outside thinking, experiment, seek the best
- Fact-based – facts rather than opinions ultimately count
- Challenge – competitive urgency, race with no finish line
It is no coincidence that agile values match those of adaptive organisations. Agile methods recognise evolution as the key mechanism at work in improving products and improving processes. Kanban as defined in +David Anderson's Blue Book explicitly calls out evolution as the mechanism of change in its principles. Furthermore it has made the key leap beyond earlier agile methods that proposed a static Social Technology to implement evolving Physical Technologies (i.e. the use of a pre-defined process). Kanban applies evolution to the Social Technology itself. Kanban in that sense is a meta-process, a means to keep organisations in Beinhocker's "fit" state by evolving the processes it uses. In my view this makes it important for all agile teams to understand, whatever label they apply to their own current process.
The way you yourself change is at least as important as the way you change the things you are producing.