Evolutionary Mindset

Evolution happens through selection (‘top-down’ pressures that nudge action, optimize traits, and incentivize behaviours) and in combination with variation (‘bottom-up’ emergence, diversity, competition, and ‘useless’ randomness).

In function, then, evolution works by entertaining multiple competing solutions from all directions. To work effectively in an evolving system is to exist in a constant state of evolution yourself.

In speaking about architectural design from a systems lens, Stewart Brand argues for prioritizing an evolutionary mindset over vision-directed revolution:

Instant-gratification, universal standard buildings are corrupting. What is called for is the slow moral plastic of the “many ways” diverging, exploring, insidiously improving. Instead of discounting time, we can embrace and exploit time’s depth. Evolutionary design is healthier than visionary design.1

What would an ‘evolutionary mindset’ look like in your institution?


  1. Brand, Stewart. (1995). How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built. Penguin. 


Cite this page:
Shelley, James. (2020). 'Evolutionary Mindset' (in System Thinker Notebook). Originally published on August 5, 2020. Accessed on September 29, 2020. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permalink: https://jamesshelley.com?p=17172
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