It’s not disruption, it’s punctuated equilibrium

No need to disrupt - just evolve

As a biology student turned venture investor, I view the ecosystem of startups a little differently than most. The “Series A Crunch” is a standard carrying capacity problem, blue ocean markets are little more than keen takes on speciation, and predation, parasitism, and mutualism run rampant.

The greatest founders have a high biological (busiological?) fitness and often have strong offspring. But just like the weaker male gorillas, less brute force and more cunning tactics can yield children as well. For the most part, I think people see these parallels. Yet there is one concept in the startup ecosystem that has this student of Darwin cringing from the implications: disruption.

I take issue with the notion of “disruption,” particularly in the field of education, where real futures of real student minds are on the line. I don’t want the process disrupted, because that means the old system must die by failure and abandonment. In the case of education, that’s an entire generation.

I’d like to propose instead we view evolution in the business world the same way it is seen in the natural world — through a combination of gradualism and punctuated equilibrium. Gradualism (otherwise known as “incremental innovation”) is the process of small change over time, and we see evidence for it in the geologic record. But sometimes there are big jumps, large changes that lead to a new species, or new abilities. This is known as punctuated equilibrium.

Evolution is a combination of small changes over time and large changes when the time is right

Consider the classic example of Darwin’s Finches. They all started the same, and as they were isolated on different islands, each adapted to the specific needs of the niche (“peripatric isolation”). Some got longer beaks to reach in flowers, some thicker to break hard nuts.

The internet is like the galapagos, made up of islands with niches. The mainland had its species — it’s books, pens, and way of life. Now it’s time to reach a new equilibrium, many little equilibriums, according to the world around us. Eventually, people will take boats to see the pretty new birds.

No need to disrupt — just to evolve.