Technology Management from and Evolutionary Point of View

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Lisa Norton
Technology Management
December 16, 2010


Technology Management from an Evolutionary Point of View


This paper aims to describe technology management in relation to Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution and Theory of the Firm concepts. While identifying characteristics of technologies and its management, describing these characteristics in relation to the biological theory of evolution; it may give insight to better management skills by using the evolutionary metaphor. To explore these topics we need to ask ourselves a few simple questions: What is evolution and how does evolution happen? How are evolution and technology related? What are firms and why do they exist? How does evolution relate to technology and firms?
Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution is based on the idea that all organisms have evolved from a simple life form into more complex life forms over time. Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution was not actually a new idea, but his idea of natural selection was new to the concept of evolution. There are several people whom had written about evolutionary ideas before Charles Darwin. Ironically, Charles Darwin evolved the Theory of Evolution with his idea about natural selection, and it is the most important part of theory to understand how it drives evolution forward.
There are three main components of the Theory of Evolution equation in order for biological evolution to occur: variation, selection and heredity. Variation is the process in which the genes are mixed in a population and produces different genetic traits within a species. Some of these characteristics are strong and some are weak. Heredity are the traits that are inherited. This concept is important in the respect that it serves as a genetic memory in one aspect for a species. Selection or natural selection is the process in which only the strongest, or most desirable, traits survive because the others were not able to compete. Therefore, those that survive will create a new variety and have the best traits for the offspring to inherit as natural selection repeats itself. Slowly the species evolve because it will become stronger and more adaptable by eliminating the weaker traits as well as developing new ones. Please refer to Figure 1.1 below to understand this concept.


Kevin Kelly talked about technology and evolution in a presentation for TED.com. Mr. Kelly painted a picture in the audiences' mind how technology evolves, what technology wants, and what technology really is in relation to the world, or universe. His presentation was very thorough. He believes technology and life have always existed from the beginning of time. Each organism is constantly "hacking" to progress forward by means of evolution (Kelly). The examples Mr. Kelly used are solar powered sea slugs and an ant that stores honey in its abdomen. These life forms are unique to their species. There are no absolutes in universe in regards to evolution, and all life and technology has an exception to it.
One may understand more about technology to look at it from a long view with an evolutionary perspective. All organisms, including technology, had primitive beginnings in a simple form. Every living organism today is as highly evolved as human beings, and "each one is hacking how to do life"(Kelly). Life exists virtually everywhere on earth and it is always evolving due to the co-evolvement of other living organisms. Technology and living organisms learn how to diversify and specialize. Because of diversification and specialization, all organisms and technology become more complex over time. Everything evolves together at the same time, therefore, in the long view "evolution has: ubiquity, diversity, specialization, complexity and socialization"(Kelly). Diversity and specialization is the process from the simple form to the more complex form with variations. Complexity is considered to be an instinctive part of evolution occurring over time. Socialization is becoming more important since more living organisms' environment is being surrounded by other living organisms. Technology and biological evolution have the same characteristics in regards to what drives them forward toward diversity, ubiquity, specialization, complexity, and socialization. Since there are six animal kingdoms in the world, Mr. Kelly considers that technology could be the "seventh kingdom" because they operate in the same manner (Kelly). It's a new way to approach technology in a genealogical sense. See Figure 1.2

You can have technology that does not exist anymore be the parent of existing technology, however, this does not work the same way with biological evolution. In a peculiar way, technology does not die or become extinct. Old technologies do not die because the parent technology is continually evolving. For example, hammers, music players, film, telephones, and engines are old technologies and still being produced. The socialization aspect is so important because it relates to culture. According to Mr. Kelly, "Culture is the accumulation of ideas [...] so ideas don't die out"(Kelly). Culture, evolution, long term technology, and major changes in life are influencing and speeding up the way evolution occurs. Culture is changing the way technology is thought about or how ideas are generated. Technology is accelerating evolution by how humans discover new ideas; therefore we play 'The Infinite Game'. Since biologically life's main goal is to survive, technology's main purpose is to "extend the game by changing the rules or extending the rules of the game [...] technology is really about better ways to evolve. [...] This is 'The Infinite Game' [...] and an infinite game is a game you play to keep playing"(Kelly).
When discussing the theory of the firm, one should keep in mind the socialization, diversity, complexity, and specialization aspects of evolution. Firms can be thought of as cultural, social and technological entities or as a working machine. Firms are similar to living organisms because they have behaviors, memory, communication, ideas, traditions or customs, values, the struggle to survive, and most importantly have the ability to evolve. Firms are similar to technology in the respect they are continually trying to find ways to evolve to continue to play 'The Infinite Game' by diversification, specialization, socialization in the market. There are two different theories of the firm including transaction cost

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