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February 07, 2014
It’s the egg
By: Mark McDonald

It’s a paradoxical question applied to everything from innovation to evolution to change management. The answer is rather simple – it’s the egg.

The “Chicken First” proponents see it the other way. They point out the need for a chicken first that lays chicken eggs. Sound logic based on observation and the notion that what is in the present was also in the past.

Egg-istiential realists recognize that a chicken that cannot lay a chicken egg is not a chicken at all but a hybrid. It is sterile, an evolutionary dead end, an experiment. The egg itself is a mutation, a new idea that is different from the past and most importantly delivered in a way that perpetuates itself. That is why the egg comes first and the same applies for ideas.

It’s the egg, silly

The egg is the burden of proof for a viable idea. Creating the idea is important, but ideas must propagate, grow and reproduce to have effect. That is what makes ideas viral. They are eggs passed along to grow, change and adapt. That is the difference between inflexible culture and values that cannot change– the chickens and agile organizations that act and learn continually.

Nature knows it’s the egg. You can be an individual, but you cannot be a species without the egg. Nature dedicates the significant energy to reproduction and the plethora of reproductive models.

The same applies to business. You can be a company, but you cannot have an economy without growth and change. The creative destruction fueled by venture capital investing in new ideas is not really breaking eggs, its recirculating capital from today’s chickens to create tomorrow’s eggs. Each eggs success, incubated and nurtured are chickens that replicate, improve and extend ideas – some to such an extent that they become verbs in the business lexicon like amazoning, googling, fed-exing, etc.

Chicken and eggs in the digital age

This age-old argument is important. Too often we concentrate and put energy into where we are now (i.e. the chicken) and short change the future (i.e. the egg). It is important to perfect the chicken by working within the business. That involves working within existing operations and business models. This is a focus of operational management and the majority of our resources and workforce. It is what it means to work “IN” the business. But viable organizations, ideas, products and business models need to do more – they need to engage, shape, change and participate in the future as well as the present. That is the essence of focusing on the egg – it is working “ON” the business to change its nature, structure, capabilities and value potential.

Digital Poultry or paltry digital

The chicken and egg analogy applies to any innovation or disruption presenting the challenge of realizing the future through repairing the present or creating the future by evolving the model. It is one of the differences between feeling digital and being digital.

Companies that digitize their operations, businesses, products and services by applying new technology to what they do now upgrade who they are now. They feel very digital showing off their new digital feathers and features. “We have an app for that” makes you feel digital. But there must be more to being digital than moving information onto sheets of glass. There is and that is the disruption.

What are you having for lunch today?

It’s a strange question in the context of this post, but your options are simple.

There are two sandwiches on the strategic lunch menu: chicken salad or egg salad. The answer to this question is clear to me. I want my competition to eat egg salad, consuming future ideas and value potential as they concentrate on their current operations. I will have the chicken salad, gaining nourishment from todays operations to fuel the future.

The strategic choices have never been clearer. The opportunity to eat your competition’s lunch has never been greater as everything is changing. Yes you have to adapt what you have today – creating an agile organization. But that is not the only goal of agility. You have to produce high yielding eggs to adapt and change for the future.

So which comes first? For me it’s the egg, growth and the future. I’ll buy lunch ordering it on my smart phone. What will you have?


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