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Embrace Irresistible Forces: Seek Out the Forces and Take Action Now

Apr 13, 2008
"If there is no struggle, there is no progress."
--Frederick Douglass

There are many benefits to being exposed to more challenges. Many outstanding executives, academics, and journalists shared helpful ideas and comments while I was developing the breakthrough change process.

Interestingly, only one person commented on my story about some lizards. However, that one person happened to be Arie de Geus, a former Royal Dutch/Shell executive, who is one of the finest business thinkers.

The lizards were part of an experiment designed to cause extinction. Scientists placed the lizards on islands with habitats ill suited for them so that more could be understood about the process of a species dying out.

Regardless of the ethics (which seem questionable at best) of the experiment, the unintended lesson was profound. Typically, the lizards didn't become extinct.

Instead, they overcame the adverse conditions of their new habitats. To survive, the lizards evolved at more than 2 billion times the normal rate (as suggested by what normally occurs from looking at fossil records) in both behavior and physical characteristics in a single generation.

How can that happen? We now know that many genes are turned off and on by environmental conditions. At the time of the experiment, that understanding of genetics did not exist.

Rapid changes in behavior and physical characteristics continued in succeeding generations of lizards, until they were soon quite at home in their new environments. The lesson of the lizards' phenomenal evolution, as de Geus pointed out in his feedback, is a most important clue to how irresistible forces can unleash humanity's full potential.

Let's consider outer space for a moment. Many people question the wisdom of the substantial sums spent by the United States and others on manned space exploration. These critics see few advantages to these efforts, and point out other uses for the funds that have more obvious benefits. Defenders passionately and optimistically point out the potential for new scientific discoveries.

What both sides of the debate miss is that the harsh and limitless dimensions of outer space are the perfect environment for encouraging humanity's most rapid physical, behavioral, and organizational development. This statement is not meant to create any discomfort for or threat to you, but to open your eyes to the potential to improve our physical characteristics while becoming much better thinkers and doers.

For example, when exposed to weightlessness, human bodies degenerate in a number of subtle, but threatening, ways similar to aging. One such reaction is to lose calcium from bones. Evolving our bodies in outer space might provide important benefits for earth-bound people in learning how to retard similar degenerative effects.

If humans make mistakes while operating in outer space, the errors become life-threatening more rapidly, which suggests the necessity of learning how to operate closer to the ideal best practice. Finally, manned space exploration is so difficult and expensive that the nations of the world have little choice but to pool resources, providing models of cooperation and alliances to be applied in other areas.

An aggressive commitment to manned space exploration could cause a rate of human evolution far in excess of what happened with the lizards. Although humans and lizards look very different, the DNA of each is similarly subject to change.

Rapid physical changes in response to new environments may be just as possible for humans as for lizards. Understanding genetics increasingly allows people choices of how to change their own bodies. Gene therapy is doing this now to overcome a number of hereditary diseases. Scientists now predict that we will eventually be able to grow replacement parts for ourselves.

And people have advantages over lizards. In particular, humans can use tools to think in new and more valuable ways. These tools include asking new questions, abandoning old ways of thinking, and using powerful machines such as computers to extend the physical limits of the human mind. This improved thinking, in turn, can create both more tools and more physical changes that are beneficial. People probably have more psychological ability to adapt than lizards do, also, by being more cognizant of the full extent and implications of our environments.

As a result, we truly may be living at a new dawn of human creativity, at the threshold of a time when more evolution occurs than in the entire period since mammals developed. And it is possible that all of this could occur in only one century (3-5 generations)!

In the context of this article, then, you should see by now the potential for human organizations to improve. This potential can be greatly aided by thoughtful exposure to the rapidity and severity of the irresistible force changes.

Irresistible forces are, in fact, the environmental cause of almost all improvement. Therefore, you should seek out controlled exposure for your organization to additional large, overwhelming, and unpredictable irresistible forces to create the most valuable learning experiences.

You needn't risk extinction for your enterprise to get the improvements; care should be taken to avoid risk beyond what is prudent. You need only expose part of your organization to strong forces that can cause extinction for that activity if you don't adapt in time.

To make this exposure less risky, tie that part of the organization to a safety harness (like the ones that trapeze artists use for very dangerous stunts). You can pull on the harness then to retrieve the group before the challenging conditions create any real harm to your people or your company.

Such a safety harness can simply be continuous monitoring to determine whether to terminate an experiment that is too challenging (whether for an organization or for an individual in that organization). Rotating people through these conditions will help them become much more capable at using irresistible forces to their advantage in all environments. By constantly exposing your firm to the most challenging environments, you can rapidly increase your capability to benefit from irresistible forces.
About the Author
Donald Mitchell is an author of seven books including Adventures of an Optimist, The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise, and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage. Read about creating breakthroughs through 2,000 percent solutions and receive tips by e-mail by registering for free at

http://www.2000percentsolution.com .
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