In my last article I described the balance that all organisms, and that all companies, must strike between exploring for more resources and exploiting the resources they already have. Any complex adaptive system must accomplish both tasks in order to persist in a changing environment.
Bees explore distant flowers to discover more nectar, while also exploiting what they’ve already brought back to the hive by making honey. Companies explore for innovative new products to make, while also earning current profits by exploiting the products they already know how to deliver. Bees and companies must exploit their resources to feed themselves on a day-to-day basis, but neither bees nor companies can persist for long on exploitation alone, because the environment they exist in is constantly changing, which requires them to explore to discover ways to adapt to it.
And here’s the thing: The faster the environment changes, the more important it becomes to explore. Whether it’s a bear finding and taking your honey, or a new technology threatening your business model, sooner or later exploration, discovery, and innovation will make the difference between survival and death.
Technology today is changing the business environment more rapidly than ever before, which has driven increased business interest in “agile” methodologies, designed to enable rapid, cost-efficient exploration. The “agile” methodology helps a business explore, test, and rapidly iterate on innovations in a series of lean “sprints,” rather than trying to tackle a whole innovation project at once in a more expensive, time-consuming and inherently fragile process. The methodology was originally conceived as a way to do faster, higher quality software deployments, avoiding the inevitable pitfalls and setbacks that plague nearly any large-scale, top-down process. There used to be a humorous adage, in fact, that captured the problem with such massive and difficult IT deployments, known as the “Rule of Two:”