As a biology student turned venture investor, I view the ecosystem of startups a little differently than most. The “Series A Crunch” is a standard carrying capacity problem, blue ocean markets are little more than keen takes on speciation, and predation, parasitism, and mutualism run rampant. I’ve even gotten to thinking that founders of companies are a bit like gorillas, and their business models are no more than reproduction strategies.
But these theories are for another day – there is one concept in the startup ecosystem that has this student of Darwin cringing from the implications: disruption.
I take issue with the notion of “disruption,” particularly in the field of education, where real futures of real student minds are on the line. I don’t want the process disrupted, because that means the old system must die by failure and abandonment. In the case of education, that’s an entire generation.
I’d like to propose instead we view evolution in the business world the same way it is seen in the natural world – through a combination of gradualism and punctuated equilibrium. Gradualism (otherwise known as “incremental innovation”) is the process of small change over time, and we see evidence for it in the geologic record. But sometimes there are big jumps, large changes that lead to a new species, or new abilities. This is known as punctuated equilibrium.
Consider the classic example of Darwin’s Finches. They all started the same,and as they were isolated on different islands, each adapted to the specific needs of the niche (“peripatric isolation”). Some got longer beaks to reach in flowers, some thicker to break hard nuts.
The internet is like the galapagos, made up of islands with niches. The mainland had its species – it’s books, pens, and [some other thing in the past]. Now it’s time to reach a new equilibrium, many little equilibriums, according to the world around us. Eventually, people will take boats to see the pretty new birds.
No need to disrupt – just to evolve.