Vigo, 26 a 28 de Junio

Evolving organizations and individuals

An initiative from:


“Evolving organizations and individuals” calls on us to consider what is permanent in the field of management. In a political and economic context in which the only certainty is the recurring obsolescence of what we thought we knew, the evolutionary connection among institutions, businesses and individuals reflects the stability of an ancient challenge: that of bridging the adaptive gap between the requirements of an environment that we are ourselves changing, and our minds that are adapted to a very different environment.

In fact, we could be said to be the victims of our own evolutionary success. Our cognitive specialization, which has allowed us to dominate nature, has also generated new organizational and institutional environments against which our mental resources often collide. We can lie, deceive or betray to further our long-term interests. We may even fall into self-deception because believing our own lies is often adaptive. For the same reasons, however, cooperation and generosity are also embedded in our minds. Kindness, solidarity and empathy are not born out of rational calculation but exist because such feelings make us more valuable to others. As a result, our decisions on our economic and social exchanges often lead us to behave in a contradictory, inconsistent way.

If cognitive sciences are exerting such a great influence on different areas of management – finance, consumer behavior, strategy design, human resources management – it may be because our dual mind is the leitmotiv of institutional and business change. Institutions and businesses act as enforcement mechanisms in social and economic groups characterized by an on-going battle against ourselves, a fight that makes us alternate instinctively between selfishness and altruism, trust and suspicion, logic and irrationality, discipline and indolence. Institutional and organizational design therefore offers a degree of stability for our beliefs, satisfaction for our motivations and, above all, the possibility of greater efficiency in our cooperative endeavors.

An evolutionary perspective of organizations and individuals should also encourage us to reflect on our role as business management researchers and teachers. If instinctive rationality is present by default in individuals, it is worth asking in which areas the analyses and recommendations inspired by scientific methodologies can best be applied, and in which other areas “airport literature” can have the greatest impact. What is at stake is the value of scientific knowledge and its relative importance in comparison with mere conventional wisdom. We should assess whether the success of our scientific discipline in the normative field stems more from adaptability to changing selection environments than from the scientific rigor of our approximations and recommendations. Normative success with regard to management or public policy recommendations requires evolutionary adaptation, but perhaps scientific truth in social sciences is not always synonymous with adaptability. If so, whether the management theories we teach are scientific or not might be irrelevant for training future managers.

The contradictions we face in this situation are multiple and varied. And while many cities could probably reflect them well, Vigo is certainly one of the best exponents. Looking over the immensity of the sea with melancholy but having a civil society with the energy to regularly reinvent itself, its institutions and enterprises have evolved over the last thirty-five years to adapt to an inter-connected economy in which the processes of generation and dissemination of new knowledge both are the key to growth. Some of the changes are planned, some happen just by chance, and some others arise out of an apparent disorder that is governed by the rules of emerging systems, with their simple rules and no centralized control. As in many other industrial cities, the mutations taking place are consolidating the transition from a geographical center of industrial production to a center that generates knowledge for innovation. While the adaptive success of these changes remains to be seen, clearly the learning processes are taking place in conditions that make this city a suitable location for going back to the drawing board, resetting our paradigms, and thinking once again about how and why institutional and business changes take place.