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Innovation Evolution: Black Swans, Birds of Paradise and Harriet the Tortoise

The famous observer of nature and innovative evolutionary thought leader Charles Darwin once said:

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

Perhaps no one has influenced our knowledge of life on Earth as much as the English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882).

So what might we learn about rapid evolution and transformation within society? What can we learn about the digital economy, which is now evolving faster than we can predict?

Here are three intriguing and diverse examples from Darwin’s natural world that illustrate how we can evolve faster to accelerate.




 In the prologue of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes how

No-one in the western hemisphere thought swans came in any colour other than white – until Europeans started travelling to Australia.


"Before the discovery of Australia, people in the old world were convinced that all swans were white, an unassailable belief as it seemed completely confirmed by evidence. The sighting of the first black swan might have been an interesting surprise for a few ornithologists (and others concerned with the colouring of bird) but this is not where the significance of the story lies.

 It illustrates a severe limitation to our learning from observation or experience and the fragility of our knowledge. One single observation can invalidate a general statement from millenia of confirmed sightings of millions of white swans.

All you need is a single (and, I am told, quite ugly) black bird.

‘Black Swan’ logic makes what you don't know far more relevant that what you do know.

Taleb sees ignoring Black Swans as being “a severe limitation to our learning from observations or experience and the fragility of our knowledge.”

Events with low probability but a high impact are now shaping our world. 

Random events such as 9/11 have the power to shake up markets and businesses across the globe. This extends to when businesses ignore impending radical changes and miss the signals and opportunities around them.

Think about formulating a ‘secret recipe’ to build a winning product or service.

If the idea was obvious,

someone would have already have come up with it.

So what can we do about what we don’t know now?

Make like a bird-of-paradise.


Bird-of-paradise: EVOLVE AND IMPRESS

Famous naturalist David Attenborough calls the brilliant bird-of-paradise (This video is actually quite funny)


“One of the most highly evolved animals in the world”.

Evolved in isolation on New Guinea, there are more than 40 species of the bird-of-paradise, with the males all sporting outlandish plumage to attract a suitable mate. The males’ elaborate mating displays tell us everything about its evolution.

These displays are actually smaller individual movements, which come together by forming a single choreographed piece. New ‘performances’ are created by reorganizing and modifying those smaller movements, which Ornithologist Ed Scholes observes speeds up evolution by allowing innovation to flourish within existing structures.

Have a look at this YouTube clip here to see this dazzling display.

And if the dull-coloured females prefer those new organisations?  

Then those displays eventually become increasingly standard.

So what happens when you are slow to evolve?

Are you positioned to provide a dazzling display for your customers?

Or will they simply walk away, uninterested?



Harriet The Tortoise was collected from the Galapagos Islands in 1835 by Sir Charles Darwin when she was just the size of a dinner plate.

This means that she probably hatched somewhere around the year 1830.

Her body shape also tells us that it is likely she originated from the island of Santa Cruz. After a short (and very cold) time in England with the British naturalist and author of The Origin of Species, Harriet was brought Down Under by Darwin's friend John Wickham to enjoy a warmer climate in Australia.

Darwin’s observations of these creatures on the second voyage of the HMS Beagle contributed to his development of the theory of evolution.

These giant tortoises evolved from their common South American ancestors in a curious way.

Floating passively over 1000km from the coast, the journey was made possible by their fat reserves, which allowed them to float and survive, as well as their long necks, which allowed them to breathe.

From there the tortoise subspecies split and multiplied, adapting differently to the different environments across the Galapagos. Some developed shorter necks and domed backs on humid highlands, while others evolved longer necks and curved ‘saddleback’ shells for sparser, drier conditions.

Interestingly enough, some 140 years later, Harriet ended in Australia Zoo in Queensland with none other than the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin.

But that’s another story.

Like all creatures,

business and products need to continue to evolve,

to maintain longevity,

or eventually they can just die out.

Don’t just survive – thrive by seizing on your own business evolutionary pathway.

Ideas Accelerator is an easy and proven method that helps people rapidly act on their ideas, help get concepts to market faster, engage customers, and be more profitable.


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