August 8, 2009

Richard Dawkins interviews Eric Beinhocker on Evolutionary Economics

Richard Dawkins interviews Eric Beinhocker, author of Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics about Evolutionary Economics.
In the interview, Beinhocker mentions something which the readers of this blog will recognize as something very solution-focused: "What some companies do is, rather than trying to outguess where the market is going, they will create some notion of variety within their company, just as the marketplace has a variety outside the company, and then let the market choose. Let customers decide which products and services they like best. And then, quite importantly, scale up or amplify what works and de-amplify what doesn't work."


  1. Yes, I worked for a decade for a computer vendor that heavily relied on a strategy of internal competition between working groups.

    The end result over the course of the company's history was that the competition fuelled exceptionally good products (the result of winning the competitions plus the selection pressure of an engineering culture). This was however at relatively high overhead since there were often multiple groups doing different variations of the same thing.

    Also, an unwanted side effect was that when the external market forces changed, the company could not maintain focus. Some of their products are so reliably engineered that they are in use 20 yrs after their inception, virtually unknown in the computer industry. Yet they missed the boat. For example, they thought their better networking technology would replace the dominant one in the industry, and that PCs would die out quickly because of their unreliability and complexity.

    Takeaway: evolutionary processes aren't universal optimizers, they shape inherited variety in particular ways that may sometimes be local optima, *and* they carry their own momentum along because they carry along preferences for particular kinds of environments and the capacity to shape environments according to those preferences. These are the principles of "Active Darwinism," such as "niche construction." This is particularly important for human applications of evolutionary processes because we are particularly effective niche constructors.

  2. Hi Todd,

    Thanks for this wonderful comment. This missing of the boat of that company reminds me of the work of Clayton Christenson (I guess you know it, if not, here is an introduction: and

    I very much like your takeaway message: evolutionary processes aren't universal optimizers, they shape inherited variety in particular ways that may sometimes be local optima.

    I had not heard about the concept of niche construction, but it sounds familiar ...


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