Evolution vs Revolution

In my company there are 2 kinds of people, The kind of people always dreaming up and trying new things (and breaking down old) , and there are people who keep tweaking the existing things and make it slightly better( or worse).

In my younger days i was a nihilist, identifying with the iconoclasts. Recently i switched over to the ‘make things better one step at a time’ camp. But there was always the dichotomy about what is a better way of doing things.

How many times have you thought  Should i rewrite or should i evolve to the right design?

Turns out both… It seems all to obvious when you realize it. I look at Ipod. Revolutionary Idea. But over a period of time Apple has evolved it each generation. ditto Gmail, Iphone,  yada yada.

The big moment for me was  reading about Levy’s flight. It comes from an observation that herds graze around a small area for a while, and then they make a big leap to a totally different area and stick around there till the next big leap.

For a team to be successful, there have to be iconoclasts and there have to be tinkerers . Revolutions are built on slow and steady evolution and vice versa.

Levy’s flight distribution kind of follows the power laws. See Levy’s Distribution

Power laws can be seen simplistically as 80-20 rule. So 80% of the benefit can be derived from the 20% big changes (If we think of it as change size vs benefit plot). Can we get away by doing only the big changes?

My personal view is forgetting to do the remaining 80% of small changes could be disastrous.

Is this some metric that we should keep track of?


2 responses to “Evolution vs Revolution

  1. I came across a passage in “How Buildings Learn” that resonated with your post:

    “Whereas Low Road buildings are successively gutted and begun anew, High Road buildings re successively refined. These are precisely the two principal strategies of biological populations…

    Individuals of opportunistic species are typically small, short-lived, and independent, putting all their energy into productivity. Preserver species are more often large, long-lived, densely interdependent and competitive, rationing their energy for high efficiency.”

    • Hey Bagheera,
      I really like that example(and the book ofcourse)
      But i also think that revolutions have their basis in evolution. I mean they also coexist in the same place. For example, IMHO, iPhone could not have been build if there were no incremental improvements in the mobile phones(and for that matter in music players, batteries, hard disks, manufacturing techniques etc.)

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