The Evolutionary Basis of Rigidity


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Marten Scheffer and Frances Westley, “The Evolutionary Basis of Rigidity: Locks in Cells, Minds, and Society,” 2007.

Our brief overview so far suggests that, on the cellular level and in individual minds, the benefits of locking into one of several alternative stable modes are often clear. However, the benefits of locking into a rigid pattern in society are less obvious. Indeed, it seems that locks frequently turn into non-adaptive traps, and one wonders why rigidity in societies, groups, or businesses can be so dominant. …

Glancing over different fields of research, it seems almost as if there is a fundamental trade-off between two clusters of properties that we could broadly label as “explorative” vs. “efficient” (or “exploitative”). … The exploration and exploitation phases require radically different modes of thinking and acting, indeed they require two different organizational cultures. …

Our review suggests that rigidity is so deeply rooted because it evolved as a way to ensure consistency, which is important to achieve efficient functioning on levels varying from the cell to individuals and groups.