The Theory of Natural Selection at Work

The businees lessons to be learned from nature's evolutionary tale.

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By Joanna Swash

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In a world that has been turned on its head and where uncertainty remains the norm, the ability to adjust to new conditions, and pivot quickly and efficiently in response is a business-critical trait. There are new rules for business success. And lessons to be learned from nature's evolutionary tale.

Survival of the fittest. A phrase that has come to be associated with grabbing life by the unspeakables in a dog-eat-dog world, giving people license to go all out for their own gain. We know that today, this is an outdated view of what good leadership should encompass.

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However, the term has been misunderstood and misinterpreted to suit. What Darwin was actually saying in his Origin of the Species published way back in 1869, was that it is the organisms best adjusted to their environment who will be the most successful at surviving. "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent. It is the one most adaptable to change."

It has taken us a world crisis to appreciate it, but adaptability is the new competitive advantage, and it is the key to thriving amid a disruptive and uncertain business landscape.


The primary goal, business or organism, is that of survival. An instinct that explains how animals have evolved camouflage to avoid predators and how leaders have risen to the challenge of a pandemic pivoting to home-working overnight and manufacturers repurposed their production lines for the creation of essential personal protective equipment.

What are the takeaways from this? That this is the new normal. That we need to be openly prepared, make decisions at speed, trust our people, stay connected and be kind. And that those businesses that didn't settle for survival mode, that adapted with tempo, will thrive.


Building adaptability in an organization begins with you, the leader. As your business grows or you climb the corporate ladder, your leadership role evolves, becomes more complex, and requires new skills. You adapt. In doing so you can lead your organization and your people in the same mindset.

Nurturing your adaptability means being open, honest, and self-aware. It is about continuous learning, self-reflection, and accepting failure as a positive step in the right direction. Then it is about applying it so that your organization is the fittest.


We have seen that organizations that understand their environment and respond quickly and proactively to change will be those which grow and flourish. And this comes down to any organization's greatest asset, its people. When it was all hands to the pump status as the pandemic hit, it was people who drove the changes and allowed huge lumbering organizations to turn on a dime in response.

They were able to do this because they had a culture with people at its center, one of freedom, positivity, collaboration, and openness, and an environment in which they felt safe to think outside the box, brainstorm, and implement a better response, faster.

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Fostering a culture that is grounded in a shared purpose and vision, encourages ownership and innovation. If leaders, managers, and employees all come together, collaborate, and communicate, this collective intelligence becomes a powerful tool. Add to that a can-do attitude and freedom to pursue ideas within clear-cut parameters and you create trust and ownership. This leads to engaged employees, with a shared purpose and great things can happen.

It goes without saying that delegation is a key element of this culture. Decision-making is decentralized, meaning all employees, not just at the very top, are empowered and have the authority to make decisions and flex in times of change.

Just as significant is communication. Open and honest exchanges where people are listened to, and voices heard and understood. Hand in hand with change comes uncertainty and fear. The only way around this is to be open and transparent in your communications, good, bad, or plain ugly. And there is no such thing as over-communicating either. No one has all of the answers all of the time but asking "what do you think?' is a formidable option. Speak to your people, trust them, and empower them to get things done.

If we aren't certain what the future will look like, it can be difficult to plan, to run those what-if scenarios. It is important, though to take control and incorporate flexibility into your operations. Encourage all of your team to continually ask how the organization can and should improve.

And don't forget to include your customers in all of this. Get to know their business, ask about trends, their competition and listen to what they tell you, however large or small. This way you can stay ahead of the game in spotting future disruptions or changes and be prepared.

One last topic to consider is technology. In innovating and expanding, responding to changes in markets and world events, it is essential to identify and establish the optimal technology for organizational efficiency. Advances in all fields have exploded recently so embrace them and combine them with your people so that your organization is equipped to adapt.

Just as we have evolved and adapted as a species, in business, it is evident that those organizations which can place adaptability at their center will not simply survive but thrive. Change is a certainty. And adaptability enhances your ability to handle change. Instead of trying to change the circumstance or react to the threat, change your organization from within so that it thrives whatever the situation.

Joanna Swash

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer

Group CEO of Moneypenny

Joanna Swash is the CEO of Moneypenny, which supports companies with outsourced phone answering, live chat and digital communication. Swash is a regular contributor and speaker on key topics, including digital transformation, workplace culture, leadership and international growth.

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