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Embracing Evolution in Revolutionary Moments


Biology is the study of living organisms, and you might not think that has much relevance for a company whose clients design, build, operate and maintain the world’s most complex industrial facilities and structures.

Something learned by the thousands of people who logged into HxGN LIVE evolve720 – the virtual conference we hosted this week – is that the process of evolution has its origins in biology. And as a company that encourages its customers to evolve from the status quo by putting their data to work in smarter ways, it is completely germane to view what we do through the lens of biology.

To help us apply the lessons of biological evolution to digital transformation in a pandemic, we sought out one of the world’s premier technology futurists, Jamie Metzl … who also happens to be a geopolitical expert, has a Ph.D. in Southeast Asian history from Oxford and a law degree from Harvard, is a frequent guest on CNN and FOX News and is a special advisor to the World Health Organization.

Metzl told us that another pandemic is virtually “guaranteed.” Whether it’s more or less devastating than COVID-19 will determine on what we learned from the multiple disease-fighting failures experienced across the globe. And if we don’t implement those lessons, “shame on us.”

One of the unusual symptoms of COVID-19 is that it seems to have accelerated some enormous shifts that have disrupted the business landscape far beyond the direct effects of the pandemic. As Metzl pointed out, extinction happens when a sudden change overtakes a species too fast for adaptation.

Did you know that of all the species that have existed on Earth, 99.9% of them are now extinct? Extinction seems to be the natural course of things – including for Fortune 500 companies. Of the companies that were on that list in 1955, only 60 of them – or 12% – remain in business today. That represents a lack of adaptation. That’s evolution.

Until the pandemic hit, I don’t think many of us were viewing our species as being vulnerable to extinction. In the 2020 Global Risk Report – published just weeks before the pandemic – the top perceived risks were global confrontations/friction between major world powers and domestic polarization.

In 2021, the top risks were infectious diseases and livelihood crises. I don’t see those concerns going away anytime soon.

As Metzl said, the difference in humans and all other species is our ability to make choices, which can alter the process of evolution itself. Now in the Anthropocene era, human activity defines the planet.

And as embodied by Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines – which teach our cells how to create proteins to trigger immune responses rather than introducing weakened or dead virus samples – mankind now has the ability to “rewrite and hack the code of life,” according to Metzl.

The implications for the future of health care are immense. Soon, millions and millions of people will have their genome sequenced. That’s the blueprint for each individual life. The data available on you can fill volumes of books.

All of that data is astounding, but it’s irrelevant unless it is viewed and utilized properly.

Metzl likened that giant store of data to what we do at Hexagon.

“The application of big data,” he said, “is an exact parallel.”

Our clients have tons of data. It means nothing until it is placed in proper context.

Whatever linear vision you have of the future is, in most circumstances, incorrect. The future is not linear; it is exponential.

As Metzl said, the world must recognize that in this time of exponential change, staying put is the most dangerous thing you can do. That’s why the message of evolution – of biology – is so crucial.

About the Author

As president of Hexagon’s Asset Lifecycle Intelligence division, Mattias Stenberg is responsible for the global strategic direction and overall business development of the company. He has an MBA in economics from Linköping University and a degree in computer sciences from Stockholm University, both in Sweden.

Profile Photo of Mattias Stenberg