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03/29/2010

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Roger Mader

Mr. King
your observations as extolled on businessweek.com are very intriguing. Two questions.

1. I'm curious how to help my clients learn to fear, and ultimately mimic, the invasive species likely to start feeding at the edges of their ecosystem. Are there methods by which the entrenched species should scan for emerging competitors? Or is there a better question to ask - less about defending the old than inventing the new before usurpers do it in your stead?

2. In the US, the Card Act and the shifting regulatory environment have fundamentally and abruptly altered the field of play for consumer credit/lenders. Do your observations of invasive species consider rapid readjustment to a rift in the ecosystem. Something more akin to the volcanic eruption in Iceland, versus the glacial melt of global warming?

rcmader@gmail.com

Henry King

Dear Roger

Thank you for your thoughtful questions and for your interest in invasion theory. I’ll offer short replies to both of your questions here and then create new posts over the next few weeks or so to cover different aspects of them in more detail.

So, to your first question: First, it’s really hard getting executives in successful corporations to take seriously the idea that the biggest threats to their way of life may not come from their direct competitors but from much smaller outsiders. It gets even harder to convince them of the threat when the outsiders’ offerings are seemingly inferior to their own, as Clayton Christensen has described in the Innovator’s Dilemma. Despite our ability as humans to plan ahead and to think abstractly, we overwhelmingly favor the short term and the concrete in our decision making, both on an individual and collective basis, regardless of the impact of those decisions on our long term.

One potential tactic to “scare” your clients may therefore be to dramatize future scenarios as if they already exist. You may need to fictionalize but I suspect you’ll have more impact with them if they believe there’s an immediate and real threat.

As far as scanning for emerging threats, one method may be to ask “where is my client at risk?”. If that is too difficult to get to directly, you can ask a different question first, which is “what were the prevailing conditions – technologically, politically, economically etc – under which my client and/or their primary product/service started and became successful, and do those conditions still apply?” If the answer to the second part of that question is “no”, then your client is at risk. You can then look more closely at those conditions that no longer apply, and at those new conditions that do apply, and that will give you a direction in which to scan for threats. You can also use this method in a more proactive way as you suggest, to help your clients redefine their businesses before an invader does it for them.

Again, I’ll cover all of this in more detail in future posts as there’s a lot more to say about it.

To your second question, I cover this tangentially at least in the third invasion principle “take advantage of disturbed environments and tumultuous times”. Invaders tend to thrive in such environments while natives tend to suffer. An interesting exception is that natives who tend to be aggressive in stable times may also exhibit invasive characteristics in unstable ones. In other words, sudden rifts favor both new and established companies as long as they perceive those rifts as opportunities rather than threats.

I hope that's helpful and would welcome an ongoing conversation with you and others about this.

Best

Henry

Nick Gall

Great stuff! You should really check out the concept of Panarchy by Holling and Gunderson. Their paradigm of an adaptive cycle is well respected and it addresses the very same "pioneer species" issue you address. The seminal book is "Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems" at http://bit.ly/c5ZBsp . It is based in part on the concept of ecological succession. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_succession ) After a collapse (eg forest fire), r-selected (fast growing, high # of offspring) species dominate an ecology. Over time K-selected species come to dominate, until the ecology collapses and the cycle repeats. There have been several efforts to map this model to market economies and industries.

Henry King

Hi Nick

Thank you very much for your comment. I will certainly check out Panarchy. Re: ecological sucession, I suspect invasive species may be a special case of r-selection, as they typically exhibit similar traits like high fecundity, short generation, small body size and are highly successful in disturbed environments.

Of course only about 1 in 1000 non-native species becomes invasive, but those that do succeed seem to be able to invade stable environments as well as unstable ones. And hyper- stable environments, like island ecosystems, turn out to be especially vulnerable. I wonder if there's some kind of power law for succession cycles, from frequent but non-catastrophic collapse at one end of the spectrum (e.g. flooding, forest fire) and rare but catastrophic at the other (e.g. mass extinctions in Hawai'i)?

Thanks again and best regards

Henry

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