Somewhere in my office is the 1997 book ‘Guns, Germs and Steel,’ by Jared Diamond. Though it sounds like it could be a summary of 2020, it is actually about how different societies develop over time.
There are several interesting ideas in the book about the advances and declines of competing people groups, even if some are uncomfortable (We’ll wipe you out with our diseases, for which you have no natural resistance because that is cheaper than sending our army. Call it ‘conquest by cooties.’). One involves the critical role that war plays in advancing cultural progress. It goes something like this…
Say we live over here in one corner of the world whereby our defensive weapon of choice is loading a turtle into a sling and launching the poor reptile as a projectile at our enemies. Over the years, we have worked hard to improve and perfect our artillery. We’ve bred for bigger turtles with harder shells. We’ve fashioned better slingshots and created an academy where young warriors are trained to the highest levels of twirling and flinging. Recently, we had a breakthrough, perching our fighters atop llamas, enabling a mobile attack. We are, without question, the world’s most unique ‘armored cavalry.’ With that protection, our people live in peace, knowing that they are protected by a phalanx of flying turtles.
That is, until someone comes over the hill with a gaze of raccoons. (Yes, ‘gaze’ is the collective plural for raccoons. Now you know.) They feast on our turtles as they invade us.
The point is that getting your butt kicked by a more technically advanced enemy forces you to step back and assess your thinking, your assets, and your strategy. If you are not totally wiped out in the process, war brings you face to face with advanced capabilities and propels you forward.
Obviously, this dynamic is not limited to actual shooting wars, be they with bullets or terrapins. For example, losing political parties now evaluate how the winners better used social media.
In business, the learning value from getting invaded is clear as a bell. Your organization is heads down in your corner of the world, working hard to improve all aspects of your flying turtles, and then, what? A gaze of raccoons comes along, and the financial scoreboard gets your attention.
OK, let’s bring this silly analogy to a close.
If all healthcare is local – if that is still just as true as always – then it makes sense to attend to your turtles.
But if the rise of the ‘brand’ in driving consumer preferences and the obliteration of the constraints of geography by rapidly advancing technology starts to seriously undermine that premise, you might want to start raising hawks and owls (they eat turtles).
Invasion, as painful as it is, serves a useful purpose. You get to see, up close, what the enemy has that you don’t.