4. The biological philosophy: ‘changing organisms’ INTRODUCTION The earliest organizational change philosophies found inspiration in metaphors and analogies appropriated from the natural world. Indeed, the change management literature bursts with references to various kinds of creatures and organisms, from ‘cash cows’ to spider’s web organizational structures. For the most part, the acquisition of biological concepts yields excellent returns in understanding how change works. After all, nature provides all the environmental components analogous to those which organizations and industries face. Individual organizations compete with others in a battle for resources where prosperity and growth roughly equates to survival and reproduction. Industries and sectors compete with each other for the same capital, customers and resources, like species fighting to adapt in a deadly world of predators and starvation. Even the individual life-cycle of an organism, from birth, development, maturity, decline and inevitable death, matches organizational experience. Revealing the character of the cycle anticipates the main challenges at each stage of progress. The biological philosophy suggests that organizations ‘live’ and endure vulnerabilities like any fragile, mortal organism. In fact, the idea that organizations suffer the merciless vagaries of a competitive arena and must fight for their very survival stimulated the most intuitive change philosophy ever devised. We shall see that the biological philosophy gave birth to two major theories. First, the life-cycle model, which maps the developmental progress of individual organizations, and second, the Darwinian concept of evolution by natural selection, which describes the process of adaptation and change. This chapter first explores...
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