TRANSFORMATION has potentially become an overused
buzzword. Leaders aspire for transformation whether for
country economy or for their company and organization.
Yet in reality, what typically transpires is incremental
change nothing dramatically different from before. The
problem with achieving something truly transformational
is that at the beginning of the journey, it appears
beyond imagination, beyond belief.
In figuring out what it takes to be truly
transformational, let us draw lessons from biological
evolution. This is a phenomenon generally accepted in
scientific circles, yet perhaps by virtue of its truly
transformational nature it remains difficult for many of
us to believe it to be true.
Suspending judgment for a moment, evolutionary
biologists have hypothesized, for example, that all
vertebrate animals’ ear bones (yes, including yours and
mine) evolved from being part of jaw bones. Sounds
Even more surprising, evolutionary biologists like
Stephen Jay Gould contend that to enable this
evolutionary journey, the conditions required are:
In stark contrast to these conditions, today’s amoeba in
biological functions, without redundancy in its sparse
form and very specialized in its function.
That level of perfection makes it very successful as a
living organism, in being in existence everywhere in
stupendous on earth. But today’s amoeba will not change
or transform anytime soon into a more complex entity.
Why bother since it does its job so well.
Coming back to the origins of the ear bones, earlier
vertebrates had additional jaw bones.
These bones appeared to multitask, supporting the
chewing function and, at same time, were sensitive to
vibrations – a useful function against predator or prey.
However, it wasn’t performing both functions
efficiently. This establishes the pre-condition for
change-inefficiency as a basis and motivation for
However, to facilitate change, there needed to be
redundancy. If the bones that were eventually to emerge
as ear bones were integral crucial parts for chewing,
then it would never have been able to evolve its
function out of chewing and into purely hearing.
Without surplus resources, these wouldn’t have been the
opportunity to change functions.
Multifunctionality is also a critical element to
facilitate the evolutionary journey. Biological
evolution occurs over many cycles or generations of
Each generation has to survive and function, to enable
the next generation of incremental change and natural
selection. Hence, each generation or intermediate state
in the evolution journey needs to be functional (albeit
not optimally), both as a jaw and detecting vibrations.
Hence, the bones that will eventually emerge as ear
bones need to continue to multitask in the course of the
transformation, though with each stage becoming less of
a jaw and more an ear.
Taking note of evolution theory and, in particular, the
evolution of ear bones, there is a case for
organizational change to require similar conditional,
Hence, before we embark on organizational
transformation, we should first ask, is there a need for
change? Are we already efficient as an amoeba or are we
more like some poorly fitted jawbone? We are naturally
resistant to change and managing the process of change
Thus, to put an organization through change, there must
be clarity in both the problem (source of inefficiency)
and the benefits to the organization and people arising
from the transformation.
Establishing the business case or burning platform for
change to all involved will prove important as a guiding
light for the organization, especially during the
challenging periods of the transformation.
It is natural in organizations today to drive for lean
management, ensuring optimality particularly in
While laudable in driving efficiency for stable
operational processes, having just the right number of
people leaves little room for creativity.
Thus, for the organization or department to undergo
transformation, there must be spare capacity (akin to
redundancy in jaw bones) to drive the transformation
over and above continuing the execution of existing
While the use of external consultants is a common means
of providing the redundancy or extra resources, nothing
beats having sufficient resources for internally driven
transformation to ensure relevance and organizational
The need for multifunctionality comes together with the
conditions of inefficiency and redundancy. It is having
the organization being able to both drive the
transformation and continue supporting operations over
the course of the transformation journey.
Having multitasking down to the individual level is also
potentially powerful. Consider having operational people
who fully understand the nature of inefficiencies, being
the ones living and breathing it, to determine the
In TalentCorp’s own experience, during a period of
transformation, it is best having the same people work
on both policy change ad implementation. It ensures
those implementing change fully understand the intent of
the planned changes and also allows for a feedback loop
to the extent that implementation challenges require
tweaking the policy changes.
Again. This is contrary to specializing by function for
maximum efficiency. Like the jawbone evolution
multifunctionality may translate to a period of serving
both functions less than optimally.
However, we may just need to accept this as a necessary
intermediate phase along the journey of ultimately major
Biological evolution follows hysteresis or path
dependent. What this means is that it is more like
incremental renovations to a house, rather being to tear
down a house and build a new perfect one from ground
The same applies for a organization which cannot
completely stop and then restart with a completely new
design or process.
The final outcome therefore is influenced by the
starting point and workable intermediate states along
the way, much like each stage of a renovation.
Hence, as a final reflection on lessons from evolution,
it teaches us that we mustn’t allow the perfect to be
enemy of good.
Where we are mow influences where we can go from here.
We should learn to accept the potential imperfections of
each stage of change, in journeying to a final
destination of transformation.
After all, if the human body is the result of such
imperfect steps, it ain’t half bad. Daunting and
unimaginable as transforming our organisations can be.
We should draw inspiration from where inefficiency,
redundancy and sub-optimal multifunctionality can take
us – whether in our own evolution or more pertinently
towards transforming ourselves our organization and our