From Taoism to Darwinism: Everything I know about adapting to change


Employing principles from philosophy and economics, Kennedy Assoumou explores the imperative for organisations to adapt to change - and be brave in their imagining of the future.

Change can be exhausting, frustrating and, frankly, inconvenient. But change is also constant in all our lives.

In the Tao Te Ching, written by the founder of the Taoist philosophy in 6th century BC, Lao Tzu depicts the “path of life” as in constant motion and flux. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution carries the same message - for something to survive its environment, it must adapt, or it will perish.

But you don’t have to be a philosopher or a biologist to know that failing to adapt has profound consequences. We can all list businesses that have ceased to exist, having failed to anticipate and adapt to change. Past performance is no guarantee of future results – and settling for the status quo is not an option in today’s world.

We all know that to drive change, a strategy and a plan are essential – unfortunately, goodwill and well-meaning intentions are not enough. But there also needs to be an acceptance that things are impermanent. Just as stepping into the same river twice does not provide the same experience - the river is not the same and neither is the person.

Complacency is the enemy of growth and innovation

There are some businesses that enjoy economies of scale and opt to maintain the status quo - simply because they don’t have to push for more. In their market, they are the monopoly. They are the price makers. It may not be geographically suitable for their consumers to leave, or they may be the only organisation capable of providing a necessary service – so why change?

Put simply, if we become complacent and fail to innovate, we risk becoming yet another incumbent toppled by the vision of those disruptors who dare to imagine the unimaginable.

Blockbuster was a household name throughout the early 2000’s for its home movie rental services. CEO John Antioco was approached in September 2000 by the co-founder of Netflix, Reed Hastings. Hastings had come to offer Netflix to Blockbuster for $50 million, with a proposal that would see Netflix running the online part of the combined business. But Antioco analysed Netflix to be losing too much money for the venture to be fruitful, stating: “The dot-com hysteria is completely overblown”.

Needless to say, Antioco was wrong – and Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy protection in 2010. But Reed Hasting’s drive for change was motivated by pain: tired of paying late fees on VHS tapes, he thought he could find a better way of doing things. Pain and reflection gave Hastings insight on how to make progress – Netflix was born and the rest, as they say, is history...

Driving change requires new ways of thinking

So, how do you drive change? It can start with an individual and their ability to change their mentality to be more open-minded. As a society, we need to accept that if the facts change, it is okay to change your mind. COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of evolving our thinking in accordance with new evidence – and we should be continually re-evaluating ourselves to build a better future.

But we also need a catalyst – an industry disruptor that prompts an incumbent to evolve in response, or a new process that has the potential to unlock savings and deliver efficiencies.

Regardless of what it is or where it comes from, the catalyst needs to be seen, heard and reiterated over and over again until it becomes a habit. Change may not come tomorrow, next week or next month. Real change needs time and constant iteration – just like evolution.

COVID-19 has undoubtedly been a catalyst for change and digital transformation. We’ve seen mass adoption of remote working technologies on a scale previously unimaginable. We’ve seen public sector organisations adapt – at pace – to meet the needs of the vulnerable in their community. And we now know that we can’t ever tell ourselves we can’t be faster or better.

We have recently also had to confront again the existence and prevalence of racism in our communities – some for perhaps the first time in many years. I am empowered to know that there are allies who understand that it’s not enough to not be racist, and that we must all be anti-racist. There are people who understand that it is not simply enough to want change – we must be the contributing force to see it happen, we must be the disruptors.

Be brave in imagining the future

In all aspects of our lives, we must continue to educate ourselves, and provide people with the resources to learn. Change is frustrating, draining and may even seem hopeless – but we must remember the amazing individuals who fought for change to get us to where we are today.

We’ve proven over recent months that we can think in new ways – and that we can be braver and more ambitious when imagining the future. But we must maintain momentum, and we must continue to strive to be greater than what we are and become the best that we can be.

Kennedy Assoumou joined Agilisys as a Software Tester in June 2019, having graduated with his BSc in Economics from the University of Portsmouth. Kennedy can be found on Linkedin here.

Kennedy Assoumou