Invasive Principles #3: Challenge the Status Quo

Invasive species in nature are, literally, outsiders.  They travel from their native habitats, often hitching a lift from our global transportation, trade and tourism networks, to arrive in an unfamiliar place possibly thousands of miles from home.  In the USA alone, killer bees from Africa via Brazil, kudzu from Japan, hydrilla from China, and the gypsy moth from Europe are among hundreds of alien species that have become invasive.

As outsiders, invasive species tend to have two major advantages over the natives whose ecosystems they invade.  Firstly, the natives often have no defenses against them or the diseases they carry with them.  This is especially true of island ecosystems like Hawai’i whose isolation once gave it protection.  Secondly, the invasive species have no co-evolved relationships or affinities with any of the native species and thus have no commitment to the status quo.

Acting like an outsider and challenging the status quo applies to innovation in many fields of human endeavor.  In his hugely influential book that introduced the idea of paradigm shifts, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn wrote:

“Almost always the men who achieve these fundamental inventions of a new paradigm have been either very young or very new to the field whose paradigm they change… these are the men who, being little committed by prior practice to the traditional rules of normal science, are particularly likely to see that those rules no longer define a playable game and to conceive another set that can replace them.” (Chapter 8, The Response to Crisis).

In business, Richard Branson, the billionaire entrepreneur and adventurer, has styled himself as an outsider and refused to play by the rules of just about every industry he has entered.  He started selling records in 1970 when he was just a teenager.  He named his company “Virgin” precisely because he was inexperienced at business but nevertheless differentiated himself successfully by selling records at a discount at a time when no one else was doing so.   He went on to enter the recording business in 1973 and signed a virtually unknown musician named Mike Oldfield when no one else in the music industry would touch him because his “songs” had no singing.  Virgin Records subsequently sold 5 million copies of “Tubular Bells”, one of the highest selling LPs of the decade.  Virgin Atlantic made long flights a whole lot more fun and Virgin Galactic is currently poised to be the pioneer in commercial space tourism, its first civilian astronauts scheduled to enjoy a few minutes at the edge of outer space in 2010.