The Key to Evolutionary Progress

evolutionary progress

Evolutionary progress. Those two words sum up the latest chapter in “Built to Last” by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras.

Basically, it’s the concept of unplanned progress. The authors looked at various companies whose paths twisted and turned in very unexpected ways. Yet, they found great success.

When it comes down to it, evolutionary progress involves ambiguity and usually begins with small incremental steps, often in the form of seizing unexpected opportunities. “The step looks brilliant in retrospect, but in reality was simply the result of an opportunistic experiment that happened to work out,” wrote the authors.

The Power of Experimenting

Often the success a company found was due to simply experimenting. For example, the Post-it Note was made because one employee of 3M was toying with adhesive glue. Another had the desire to mark pages in his church choir book. Both played a role in the Post-it Note creation.

In fact, 3M’s William McKnight “wanted to create an organization that would continually self-mutate from within, impelled forward by employees exercising their individual initiative.” McKnight said, “Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made kills initiative, and it’s essential we have many people with initiative if we are to continue to grow.”

The authors said something similar about the other companies in their study: “It might be far more satisfactory to look at well-adapted visionary companies not primarily as the result of brilliant foresight and strategic planning, but largely as consequences of a basic process – namely, try a lot of experiments, seize opportunities, keep those that work well (consistent with the core ideology), and fix it or discard those that don’t work.”

Where Your Core Ideology Comes Into Play

But the key to experimenting and evolutionary progress is doing so only within the context of one’s core ideology. It’s “purposeful evolution” shared the authors. “Core ideology serves as a bonding glue and guiding force that holds a visionary company together while it mutates and evolves,” they wrote.

So, what does this mean for your Box? Well, what things can you experiment with? What little things might turn into big things? You often have to try a lot of little things before deciding what to disregard. You might be surprised what evolutionary progress you find.

What can you experiment with? Is it a six-week program? An operational system? A new staff position? You won’t know until you try. Just make sure it fits with your core ideology.

Heather is the editor for Box Pro Magazine. Contact her at