Evolution, Complexity, and the Third Way of Entrepreneurship: A Series of Conversations

The world is in crisis and nearly everyone – no matter what their political or religious beliefs—understands that the status quo is not working. Entrepreneurship is needed in the broadest sense of working creatively toward positive change. But what kind of entrepreneurship is up to the challenge?

Until now, the two most influential narratives for positive social change have been laissez faire capitalism and centralized planning. With laissez faire, individuals and corporations pursuing their own self-interest in a free market are led, as if by an invisible hand, to promote the common good. With centralized planning, groups of experts design and implement their grand plans.

Both of these narratives might sound compelling as stories but are abject failures in their pure forms. Laissez-faire fails because it is simply not the case that what sells in a free market robustly benefits the common good. Centralized planning fails because the world is too complex to be comprehended by any group of experts, no matter whether a socialist government or top managers of a corporation.

Is there a “Third Way” of entrepreneurship that can succeed, where laissez-faire and centralized planning have failed? Yes. It is the wise use of variation, selection, and replication processes to achieve systemic goals. In other words, a managed form of cultural evolution.

The use of the term “Third Way” to define a new course of action, often (but not always) a middle course between socialism and capitalism, has a venerable history stretching back at least to Pope Pius XII in the late 19th century. Its use by the Tony Blair administration in the UK and the Bill Clinton administration in the USA during the 1990’s is only the most recent chapter. This series uses the term in the same spirit but draws upon a new source of knowledge for solutions: not political or economic theory, but a combination of evolutionary and complex systems science.

While it is new to describe the Third Way formally in evolutionary and complex systems terms, this series advances a bold thesis: If a managed form of cultural evolution is the only thing that can work, it is the only thing that ever has worked. In other words, wherever we find examples of positive social change in the past or present, we will find variation, selection, and replication processes being managed to achieve systemic goals, no matter how the participants conceptualized what they were doing. Thus, our Third Way is both new (in its formal articulation) and old (in realizations), with many positive examples to learn from.

This bold thesis is explored in a series of print conversations and podcasts with experts on diverse examples of positive social change. The series will:

  • Place political, economic, and business discourse on a new scientific foundation.
  • Reveal common ground between currently disparate disciplines, policy topic areas, and worldviews.
  • Provide a guide for action in real-world settings at multiple scales.