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Charles Darwin, Management Guru

At night I’d lie awake under the blanket of stars in the Southern Hemisphere, stars I never saw in the United States, and wonder what was going on back home — and back in corporate America. Lying in my sleeping bag, I tried to make the connection between the green hills of Africa and the white cubicles of America. What were we trying to achieve in those office buildings and factories? The people here knew exactly what they were trying to achieve. It wasn’t sophisticated; it didn’t promise a high standard of living. But it was elemental and unambiguous. They were trying to preserve a way of life. Every day was about one thing: survival.

What were we all about? How did survival fit in? Did it? Or was it submerged so far below the surface that we’d lost touch with that primal instinct?

For the first time I could see a company as a tribe, a group of people joined together to create a way of living that could continue into the future. Like the Hadzabe, companies are their people, living communities trying to make it another day, living according to the principles of biology and the laws of Charles Darwin.

Survival of the fittest. Survival, not of the strongest or richest, but of the most adaptable. Survival of the species with a gene pool diverse enough to keep it from becoming more and more specialized to conditions less and less likely to continue. A diverse gene pool could prevent a species — or a company — from driving headlong into a dead-end future.

You could think of a diverse gene pool as an insurance policy for change. And you could think of Charles Darwin as the most important management guru for business today.

The case for diversity used to rest on doing what was right. Our values argue for diversity. Our moral code tells us that equal opportunity is the American way of doing business. But at night in Tanzania I began to see another case for diversity: survival of the fittest. A diverse population gives any organization its best shot at survival. When change is rapid and unpredictable, diversity offers a chance at adaptation.

— Alan M. Webber

From Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business without Losing Your Self by Alan M. Webber. Copyright © 2009 by Alan M. Webber. Reprinted by arrangement with HarperBusiness, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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This Reviewer

  1. Seth Godin, a leading marketing expert, is a popular blogger, speaker, and author of 11 books, including the New York Times bestseller Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers (Simon & Schuster, 1999) and, most recently, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? (Portfolio, 2010). He is the founder of Squidoo LLC and Yoyodyne Inc. (acquired by Yahoo in 1998). Godin also served as Yahoo’s vice president of direct marketing.

This Excerpt

  1. Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business without Losing Your Self by Alan M. Webber (HarperBusiness, 2009).
  2. Alan M. Webber is an award-winning editor, author, columnist, and speaker. In 1995, he launched Fast Company magazine with cofounding editor William Taylor. Previously, he was the managing editor and editorial director of the Harvard Business Review. Webber is also a coauthor of Changing Alliances (with Davis Dyer and Malcolm S. Salter; Harvard Business School Press, 1987) and Going Global: Four Entrepreneurs Map the New World Marketplace (with William C. Taylor; Penguin, 1997).
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