If we are looking for examples to guide business success I would point to evolution as a model to look to for examples. Evolution has been incredibly successful in getting life to the stage we are at now. Could evolution be a guide to growing a successful business? What are the parallels, and lessons, that we can take from nature?
Evolution – The Critical Steps
Evolution went through a number of critical steps to get to where humans are now. We began with single cell organisms. The next critical step was the evolution of multi-cell organisms. However, it was still the case that the cells largely carried out similar functions.
As the number of cells grew the next major step was the development of specialisations of cells to do specific tasks. This was the early stage of organs and senses such as sight and hearing. The growth continued and the level of specialisation required continued. This specialisation allowed the organism, and ultimately humans, to better adapt to our environment and our ability to survive and grow. Finally, the development and growth of the brain allowed us to increasingly influence and take more control over our environment. However, the brain would not be free to focus on the environment if the organs and senses, linked by the central nervous system didn’t provide the feedback required. This holistic system allows the brain to focus on critical messages from the body, with self-managing systems across the body dealing with normal functions. As a result, the brain can spend most of its effort, and time, focusing on what is happening outside the body, in its environment.
Evolution – The Lessons
The lessons for this success of evolution are often missed. The focus of successful evolution is to meet the needs of the environment, not the need of the organism. The growth is never perfect because the environment is unpredictable. Evolution is based on adaption, testing and adoption of what works. Success was built on underlying survival with the ability to grab opportunities for growth when they arise.
Evolution of a Business
In growing a successful business, the path is very similar. The business owner typically begins alone, doing everything themselves. With growth, a few staff join, but everyone is largely doing everything with little specialisation. Continued growth leads to early specialisation; finance, sales, etc. As more success requires more resources, increased specialisation occurs with more areas such as marketing, operations, etc, and increased autonomy in the separate departments.
The need for leadership and strategic direction increases as the stability and specialisation creates its own momentum for growth and accessing opportunities. The leader needs to move from working in the business to on the business. This role change is continually challenging. Most of the early roles in a business are operational, have clear outcomes, and can be easily measured for success or failure. The leader needs to be focused on the environment, looking for opportunities and growth, and avoiding threats. This makes it more difficult to quantify success or failure. Remember that evolution doesn’t waste resources on looking back. It focuses on what works and leaves what does not.
Summary – A Guide to Growing a Successful Business!
Finally, taking the lessons from nature, successful businesses, like evolution;
- Always have an eye on the environment
- Realise that success is built on a framework for survival
- Build for adaption and learning from mistakes, not perfection
- Recognise that true success is focused on the long game
The business requires the leadership to maximise the overall chances of survival and success. The question we should always be asking is, are we, as leaders, satisfying our own needs and desires or those of the business.