August 29, 2009

The usefulness of those who keep on attacking us

Shakespeare famously wrote: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so". Isn't that a bit too optimistic? What about free riders, people who try to get away with taking more and contributing less than their fair share? And what about people who constantly gossip and try to make other people look bad? And those who try to climb the corporate ladder by any means? What about bullies? Vandals? Soccer hooligans? Gangsters? Aren't they just rotten apples, parasites? Aren't they just plain bad for organizations and society? Or is it possible too see something good in them? Maybe yes, an example from nature suggests.

Alex Trisoglio has shown that the presence of parasites in a system can dramatically speed up its evolution. A parasite finds a way to take advantage of his host. In response, the host will find a way to defend himself which in turn leads the parasite to find a new approach of attack. And so on. In such a evolutionary arms race the capability of the organism to adapt is its only sustainable competitive advantage (Pascale, Millemann & Goia, 2000). In short, no matter how irritating, malicious these parasites may be, on the level of the organism, organization or the society they may fulfill a useful function. Because of their constant attacks the system is permanently strengthening itself. Parasites remain aggravating and must always be fought but they do have their use. Maybe that idea helps us to view them as slightly less awful. They may be a useful evil. What do you think? Is this far fetched? Or may it be true?


  1. I can see how this would be true. It makes sense. But in the example of the moocher when the tab arrives, I'd like evolution to speed it up a bit. Ya know?

  2. in some circumstances it would nice if evolution would speed it up a little I agree

  3. What a brilliant reframe, Coert! So true... And what a difficult process it is to evolve. Then again, whoever said evolution or growth should be easy seems to have been smoking something. Thanks for a very useful insight!


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