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8 Sep 2014

Computer Viruses Illustrating Diversity’s Power

Homogeneity & Diversity

Homogeneity vs. Diversity

Computer security is a top priority in our digital age. Repeated reports of viruses and hackings remind us of that priority. Much of the reason for our information technologies’ vulnerabilities is their homogeneity. We build and run them similarly. In humans and nature, diversity prevents the entire demise of species. Someone, even many, will be resistant. That is diversity’s power.

The article, “Divided We Stand” (The Economist, May 24, 2014 edition), reports some computer researchers trying to make our digital technology more secure by injecting diversity, by adding enough variable elements to make hacking and virus coding extremely difficult. I want to extend that analogy to our organizations.

If diversity can make our bodies and computers more resistant to harmful viruses, it can help our organizations. For some companies, change is a harmful virus causing their death. Markets, competitors, technologies plus many other factors change. Any one or combination could mean the end.

Homogeneity is like the Macedonian phalanx, one large mass of soldiers and weapons moving uniformly in a single direction. It crushes everything in its path. Diversity is like the Roman legion. Divided into cohorts, further divided into centuriae and even sub-divided beyond that, they allowed diverse, coordinated actions. Each unit had its own distinct colors and spirit. Still, if the cohort met the phalanx head on, the phalanx would decimate it. However, leveraging its flexibility adaptability allowed the Romans to defeat Macedonia in the battle of Pydna in 168 B.C. and claim supremacy of the Western world.

Diversity has its price though:

Nevertheless, diversity is well-entrenched in nature. Whether evolutionary or divine, its justification for the long-term viability of any enterprise is strong.


2 Responses

  1. Two statements in this piece are to me so important. The first one: “For some companies, change is a harmful virus causing their death.” I’d revise this just a bit to: For some companies, THE UNWILLINGNESS TO CONSIDER change is a harmful virus causing their death. My thought is that it’s not changing that’s always of value – sometimes NOT changing is the right decision; but being unwilling to regularly consider changing is a harmful virus.

    The other one: “… they allowed diverse, coordinated actions.” Diversity is a key asset; action is typically so important. BUT it’s when those actions through diversity are COORDINATED that the real magic happens!

    Great post as usual, Mike!!!

    1. Mike Lehr

      Thank you, John. In the case with the first quote, we’re saying the same thing. Change refers to externalities such as the market. Change is always happening, so to those unwilling to change, change is the virus. Change becomes more difficult to handle with homogeneity because the “naysayers” who warn of changing conditions and the need for anticipating and adapting have been purged. Change isn’t considered until there is a crisis, and then it’s too late.

      I have found that one of the biggest impediments to change is success. Hubris sets in and people figure they “know the secret to making money.” So, in relationship to this other forms of the status quo, change is the virus disrupting everything. When change does come, it’s often swift. It’s why I say, “The hottest part of the day is when the sun is going down,” in reference how sunsets (death) often come after the peak (hottest part of day).

      Thank you again for visiting.

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