Charles Darwin was right

When I look back at the blogs I’ve written I keep returning to The Power of Words. And the quote I keep reading and re-reading is the one from Charles Darwin:

It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

I’ve been thinking about change a lot this week. It’s the fault of Dan, my eight year old son. We went for a walk at the weekend, and we started talking about Granddad and the changes he’s seen in his lifetime.

But as I’m feeling reflective, let me go one step further back. On 28th June 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated – the event that provoked the First World War. A few days later my Grandfather was born, just five years after Louis Bleriot became the first man to fly across the English Channel. At a time when travelling to Australia was a six week boat trip and travelling to London by car was a fantasy.

My father – Dan’s Granddad – was born in 1948. That year, IBM were justifiably proud of their wondrous Selective Sequence Electronic Calculator. The SSEC performed a staggering 50 calculations a second: its memory was the latest cutting-edge technology – nothing less than punched tape, vacuum tubes and relays. And it was small – some people couldn’t believe how neat and compact it was. It only measured 25 feet by forty!

And I was born in 1973 – eleven years before the wife of a dentist in White Plains, New York gave birth to a baby boy called Mark.

By the time my grandfather died you could fly to Australia in a day. Driving to London was routine. What was the greatest change he saw in his lifetime? I’d say flight – the shrinking of this world and the potential to travel to other worlds.

My Dad was educated at school – and at home by the Encyclopaedia Britannica. In the days when door to door salesman would sell knowledge in 24 volumes and you’d pay for it in 24 monthly instalments. And what does my Dad do today if he wants to know something? He Googles it. Or uses Wiki – on his neat and compact iPad, which only measures nine by seven. Inches.

As flight was the greatest change that my grandfather saw, so the wholesale availability of knowledge and the ability to connect instantly with the world will surely be the greatest change my father sees.

So what will be the greatest change that I see? You’d be tempted to say the internet, but I must let my Dad claim that one. Maybe the greatest change I’ll see will be political – or economic. China has now overtaken Japan as the World’s second largest economy. At current growth rates it will overtake the USA in ten year’s time.

And what about Dan? What will be the greatest change he sees? Knowledge plugged directly into his brain? A vaccine for Aids or cancer? Nanotechnology? Clothes that cure illnesses while you wear them?  I don’t know. You don’t know. No-one knows. In fact the only thing that we know for sure is that these days, there’s not much we know for sure. The world will continue to change.

So what does all this mean for your business? I think it means one thing above all others. You must keep learning. Jack Nicholson was talking about acting, but the message is exactly the same for anyone in business:

The minute that you’re not learning I believe you’re dead.

Let me take you back to the maternity unit in White Plains, New York. It’s May 14th 1984. The mother’s name is Mrs Zuckerberg. She gives birth to a son who – shortly before his 20th birthday – launches Facebook, and goes on to become the youngest billionaire on the planet.

Where will Facebook be in ten year’s time? I don’t know. You don’t know. What I do know, is that somewhere – Russia, China, Silicon Valley or maybe even North Yorkshire – someone is developing a technology or a piece of software that will radically change our lives and the way we communicate with each other. If you want your business to survive, you’ll have to learn to use it – and in the words of Darwin, be responsive to change. Or to paraphrase Winston Churchill, if you want to be successful in business, you must never, ever, stop learning.


One comment

  1. Henry Tierney · March 11, 2011

    Hi Ed

    Nicely weaved together.
    Could this era be defined as “no longer can run away from self-responsibility”…….. and our definition of family changed to mean Facebook.?

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