[Thank you for your great feedback on my email from last week, The Arc of the Moral Universe. Since several of you asked, here’s the link to share the article on social media. Although racial justice is still rightfully top of mind, unlike last week’s email, the email that follows isn’t about racial justice, explicitly or implicitly (I wrote it two months ago, in light of the disruptions caused by the pandemic).]
In the 1800s, the peppered moths in Britain experienced a strange transformation.
Before the transformation, 98% of the peppered moths were light-colored. Only 2% were dark. But over the next five decades, the ratio completely flipped. By 1895, 98% of peppered moths were dark, whereas the rest were light.
The transformation can be traced to a cataclysmic event that generated ripple effects that not only transformed the moths, but also life as we know it.
The Industrial Revolution.
Before the Industrial Revolution, the light-colored moths enjoyed a significant advantage over the darker ones. The light-colored lichen that grew abundantly on tree bark camouflaged the light-colored moths from predatory birds, making them more difficult to detect.
When the Industrial Revolution arrived, coal-burning factories began to spew immense amounts of sulfur dioxide and soot into the air. The sulfur dioxide killed the light-bodied lichens growing on tree barks, and the soot painted the barks darker.
With these changes, the light-colored moths stuck out against the dark background and became an easy lunch for hungry birds. In contrast, the darker moth population, which now blended in with the bark, skyrocketed.
The old advantage became a new liability, and the old liability became a new advantage. The light-colored moths withered. The darker ones blossomed.
* * *
The world around us is evolving at dizzying speed. Tomorrow refuses to cooperate with our best-laid plans—the future routinely pulls the rug from underneath us. A promising new product fails, we unexpectedly lose our job, and the disrupter becomes the disruptee. Thriving businesses begin to wither as change chips away at their competitive advantage, exposing them like light-colored moths against a darkening bark.
Although people yearn for a return to “normal,” or try to predict the “new normal,” there is no such thing as normal. There is only change. Never-ending, constant change. Sometimes slow, sometimes fast, but constant nonetheless.
When the tree bark changes color, we have a choice. We can cower in dread. We can live in denial and keep inhabiting the darkening trees, clinging to hope that our old ways of doing things will magically start working again. We can grasp for predictions and forecasts that produce some semblance of certainty, but that will inevitably turn out to be wrong. We can spend our days shaking our fists at the Gods in a futile attempt to force the universe to deal us a better hand.
Or we can learn to play the hand we were dealt (rather than the hand we wish we had been dealt). We can learn to use our skills, products, and services in a way that we haven’t before. We can find a different habitat that will protect us from hungry birds in a soot-stained world.
Those who can unlearn what they know and reinvent themselves with agility—those who can swiftly change their proverbial colors or find better habitats to occupy—will enjoy an extraordinary advantage to evolve with the future.
As Alan Kay put it, the best way to predict the future is to invent it.
P.S. I’ve been spending much of my time giving virtual presentations to companies on how they can invent the future of their industry. My previous and forthcoming clients include giants like Microsoft, Intel, adidas, and Workhuman. If you’re interested in having me give a virtual presentation to your group, hit reply and let me know. You can learn more about my speaking at this link.
P.P.S. I’m thinking about starting a small mastermind for leaders who have set big goals for their companies over the next two quarters. This will be a group of people who want to reimagine their work and take their business to the next level.
We’ll combine leaders from multiple industries (ensuring no industry overlap) because what’s commonplace in one industry is innovative in another. And most importantly, we’ll create an environment where you can test, fail, and gain feedback from me, along with a small band of high-caliber leaders, to leap to levels you’ve never reached before.
This is a premium program limited to 10 leaders ready to redefine the future. If you’re interested in participating, please fill out this short form.