darwin / business / design : the concepts of “natural selection” and “struggle for life” applied in business & design | alexandros stasinopoulos | strategic+product design | ...................
  darwin / business / design : the concepts of “natural selection” and “struggle for life” applied in business & design


“it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change. “ charles darwin

although these words refer to issues related to the science of biology and physiology, yet, considering the current socio-economical environment we live in , i sense that this quote, perfectly applies today’s social and business context of our societies. currently changes are so fast, the competition for survival is fierce constituting the adaptation within ever-changing environments vital. considering that human kind is part of nature i assume that principles and laws of nature do apply to expressions of man-made creations, be them objects, organizations and even interactions.  nature has been evolving for billions of years and numerous species in the course of this time have been created, evolved, survived and extinct. a lifecycle so similar to the one of a corporate or product one.

i recognize  that I am not the first one to think mixing biology and business. academics, business analysts etc. have and still do research on this topic. nevertheless, intrigued enough to try to find my own associations and set my questions amongst darwin’s work and business i am interested to investigate also how design could possibly facilitate this process of  knowledge transfer and its application. for this reason i am currently reading darwin’s “ the origin of species” where he explains the processes and mechanisms animals and plants undergo in order to survive; a book considered to have set the foundations of evolutionary biology back in 1859.


here, are some observations regarding the content I have elaborated up to now (hopefully more worth to mention material will follow later) :



darwin has identified 3 main drivers of evolution of living organism. these are the external conditions of life, the intercrossing of species and, to a lesser extent, the habit. here I will focus on the first two drivers. although I had the impression  that the external conditions of life are the most critical elements contributing in the evolution of species, darwin considers their influence as minor by affecting mainly details such as size, colour or fur. unexpectedly, to me at least, darwin believes that the reproduction through selection and intercrossing amongst species (consciously or not) is the main factor of their evolution.  it is this remix of genetic recipes that will create a vast number of offspring, different the one from another, and of all these young species there will be few that will have these inherent attributes that will help them to best fit into their environment and eventually become dominant.


reading these observations I was surprised  by the fact that these factors of evolution evoke 2 distinct design approaches to innovate; the user-centered and design-driven processes.  it is interesting to juxtapose the drivers of evolutions with the design processes as both the drivers and the processes aim to deliver a new generation of species, products better than their predecessors.


external conditions of life  /  user – centered design process

likewise to the external conditions of life, during a user – centered design process the designer, as a creator, is called to analyze and interpret the user and therefore the market environment. In this case, the environment affects directly the properties of the product just like the external conditions will affect the structure, functions etc. of a specie.  


intercrossing  /  design – driven design process

both processes are related to experimentation. they require a number of attempts and failure is likely to occur. however according to darwin but also to albrto alessi (ceo of “alessi”, one of the most prolific companies following design-driven product strategy) these are the processes that will give birth to the greatest changes and innovations. design-driven designers may work without any structured methodology, yet, intuitively, inside their brains i am sure that complex intercrossing (between disciplines, technologies, aesthetics etc.) is taking place in order to propose new visions that may better fit inside the new contexts.   


factors such as the nature of the product to be created, the market it is targeting and the corporate strategy of the firm developing the product will determine which one is the most suitable to be followed.


interesting literature – links:


Darwin, C., (1985), The Origin of Species, Penguin Classics, London.


Verganti, R., 2008,  “Design, Meanings, and Radical Innovation: a meta-model and a research agenda”, Journal of Product Innovation Management, 25, 436-456.










I find in the domestic duck that the bones of the wing weigh less and the bones of the leg more, in proportion to the whole skeleton, than do the same bones in the wild-duck; and I presume that this change may be safely attributed to the domestic duck flying much less, and walking more, than its wild parent.”

charles darwin – the origin of species


previously I mentioned that habit according to darwin is another driver of evolution, but as he states not of great influence. I would like at this point to dive a bit deeper on habit .

it is obvious that habit can make a specie to adjust and successfully live within a specific environment. the question is what will happen if this environment changes or if this specie has to change its environment?  what if  the domestic duck will eventually have to fly to survive? staying in a current state because it is comfortable and safe maybe in a long-term  perspective it is not eventually a safe strategy. past or current success is irrelevant to survival. this is not relevant only to species, as expected, but also to corporations.

i recalled an, old, example of such a business case and it is related to ford’s mode T car (production: 1908 – 1927) the first mass produced vehicle. henry ford back then was a true innovator by transforming the production line of auto-industry and making a product that was accessible only to the few, an affordable one. the success of model T lasted almost 20 years. however, other companies such as gm in the meantime changed the overall automotive industry business model by encouraging customers to regularly trade their cars with other more technologically advanced and better equipped.  in the end of ‘20s ford’s sales plummeted because henry ford would refuse to follow the new trends and thus he set his company out of the competition.


habit is good because it means that most likely a corporation  has been for quite some time inside its current market environment (as to get a “habit” I assume I it takes some time) inside which it has evolved and adjust . thus, i suppose again, that the corporation does not have to allocate big money neither effort to support its products and everything related to supply chains, distribution channels etc. is more or less resolved.

on the other hand, habit may reduce the reflexes of a corporation, even set it to a hibernate state and  consequently detach it from the changes occurring in its broader environment. in a sense any company no matter how successful it is,  will have to develop the necessary mechanisms to observe changes and being proactive by experimenting  with new complimentary products to its current product portfolio that will (a) keep the company active and alarmed (b) may turn to commercial successes


this strategy in fact describes models such as the bcg-matrix and the ge-mckinsey multi-factoral-analysis to help companies allocate their resources and is used as an analytical tool to manage their product portfolios. i used the bcg-matrix to illustrate what i mentioned before.




in the first matrix, in the cash cows (current products with high market share in a slow-growing industry that typically generate cash in excess of the amount of cash needed to maintain the business) state, is where companies are most likely to be in a “habit” state.


in the second matrix, question marks ( i will give my definition of : new products that mainly consume money, and they may create an industry or product range, but still do not know if this will be a fast, slow or even 0 growing industry) is the state where companies should allocate money from their cash cows in order to experiment and ideally conceive the new stars (products with a high market share in a fast-growing industry).  it is fact the state where they have to experiment in order to evolve and hopefully find the successor that will best fit within the new or forthcoming market environment.


i consider that the role of a designer is critical in this later state, where everything may be non-quantifiable, subjective and latent (needs, desires etc.). inside such uncertain and ill-defined contexts, a designer possessing invaluable qualities such as problem-setting/solving mindset, observation, empathy and fantasy is the one who can conceive, visualize and suggest new products or services.





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  1. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

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