Evolution for revolution?

In which I talk about making change happen by evolution, but then talk about evolution as if it was affected by gravity, which it is, but not in the way I suggest. It’s rather a clumsy metaphor but hopefully the point I’m making isn’t too obscured by that, or by this needlessly long preamble for that matter.

I’ved been thinking a lot recently about making change happen. Change can come in lots of forms two of which are revolution and evolution.

For revolution you want to go to the centre, from there you can destroy everything and replace it with someone else. This sometimes happens and when it does it can be thrilling to witness. Sometimes however, that’s not possible. If you can’t destroy everything and start again then maybe you need to try evolution.

Evolution happens by selection. So if you are going to change things via evolution you want to effect what things are selected. What decisions are made. You need to understand the process of selection and find ways to influence it. Again, not necessarily by destroying it and starting again, but by applying the right pressure to weight selections in your favour.

In terms of influencing things around you I think gravity is a useful metaphor. Imagine the effect that the gravity of a large body has on things around it. As they come under the influence they naturally start to drift closer to the body as if they’re falling down into a hole.


So if you want to influence things you need to create a gravitational field that causes things to naturally drift in the direction you desire. So each decision, each selection in that evolutionary process brings you closer to where you want to be.

In real life this is done by creating an accumulation of things. By building something that has weight in a cultural or psychological way. Examples, stories, information, evidence, building together to become more than the sum of their parts. It’s only with this accumulation that you can generate that gravity that will begin to cause change.

The problem is maintaining your focus and keeping your eye always on this goal. It’s easy to drift away and into the rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other and the things you do become so widely dispersed that what mass they have has little or no effect.

So what’s required is discipline and organisation. It’s not something that’ll just happen. It takes effort and time and it needs to be something you do consciously. If you’re in a group this can be hard, as coordinating people to jointly create something (especially when it might not be their primary focus) can be tricky. If it works though it can be incredibly rewarding for all involved and the change it creates can be a huge and long-lasting.

The other thing about this approach is the you can never be sure that the gravitational pull of what you’ve created won’t become great enough to actually trigger a revolution. If the pull becomes big enough and the conditions are right a revolution might occur and then all of your accumulation of stuff will become the building blocks of the new order.

So … that’s something to hope for. ;-)

This post was inspired by a revisiting of the original 2010 letter from Matha Lane Fox to Francis Maude which kicked off all this government transformation in the first place.