[May 3, 2020] For hundreds of thousands of years, flightless Dodo birds lived on the volcanic island of Mauritius. Without the threat of predators, the main competition for food was other Dodo birds. They thrived in that environment until Dutch sailors arrived in 1598. Within 80 years, these birds were extinct. The Dodo’s problem was isolation from the competitive dynamics of other ecosystems.
There was no effective response to the creatures the Dutch introduced on the island. Pigs, monkeys, and dogs feasted on the Dodo eggs in unprotected nests. We normally think that the Dodo was a weak and stupid creature, unfit for a harsh world. Yet it was perfectly suited to the survival requirements of its environment.
There is a lesson we can learn from the Dodo.
Ideas about the world also exist in a sort of evolutionary system. This system provides competitive pressures, driving weak ideas into extinction and improving the fitness of those ideas that survive. Ideas that are subject to strong competition with other ideas are usually more resilient, logical, and mature.
Effective leadership, like ideas, also demands competition. I’ve often said that leadership is hard, complex, and uncertain (see links here and here). Leadership can mean sailing into uncharted waters and experiencing new, difficult problems to solve. A good example is the global Coronavirus pandemic that is taking a deadly toll everywhere.
Those leaders continually tested in the crucible of difficult leadership challenges are less likely susceptible to the Dodo’s problem. Leadership must be open to aggressive, open challenges to ensure fresh ideas are tested against reality and old systems are verified. Let’s avoid the Dodo’s fate by subjecting our leaders to healthy competition during normal times so that we are better prepared during emergencies.