Natural Selection and Product Design


I love this on so many levels. This is so basic that the underlying assumption to that statement can be derived to simple common sense.

What’s next though?

How could we envision the next evolutionary step arising from this (symptom) of a single product for many users dichotomy?

Is it possible to build many unique products for many people? Would the pareto principle still apply?

Or would it simply scale to a higher grouping (20% of unique products cater to the 80% but now global majority)?

Let’s look at the natural world for some hints. It is in essence the authority of product design. Specifically, the building blocks of life. All life is composed mainly of the four macromolecule building blocks: carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids. The interactions of different polymers of these basic molecule types make up the majority of life’s structure and function. Boom, 4 macromolecules.

Let’s see what those 4 macromolecules need. Wikipedia to the rescue again:

There are 6 main elements that are the fundamental building blocks of life. They are: sulfur, phosphorous, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, and hydrogen. Of those 6, what’s the most important one? What is the element that is absolutely necessary for all life on earth?

The basis of life is carbon. Carbon’s importance comes mainly from the enormous variety of structures that it can form, with the most important of these structures being the carbon chain, forming the “backbone” of fatty acids and carbohydrates, among other organic molecules. Other elements do share properties similar to carbon, in this regard. However, they are not as prevalent on earth as carbon.

So we need 4 macromolecules – of which the backbone is carbon. On Earth all carbon and macromolecules are repeated throughout life. Evolution and natural selection shapes and molds the necessity and existence of these components into any organism, whether plant or animal. Yet they, the products of carbon and 4 macromolecules are all different, unique and adapted to maximizing their near environment.

The science that all life shares commonality is in fact the physics and perhaps the synthesis to the 1% rule. 1% of the creativity – building blocks – allowing for 99% of all life.

1% of the necessary building components to proliferate any and all organisms. This is powerful. If product design is approached from the minimum base required to form and adapt life, we can colonize any environment. All it has to be, is favourable to the survival of the basic blocks. Nature then will take its course. It is the ultimate antifragility. Many unique products to many environments – all having the same fundamental blocks of life.

That brings us to two constants.

  1. Environment will keep changing. Forcing the organism/product to enter into an adapt or die evolution cycle.
  2. Perhaps the more important, the building blocks remain the same.

The formulation of the building blocks is what determines success or failure of a unique product in a changing environment. From the point of view of life, success or failure of a single product is irrelevant – what matters is the survival of life overall. I arrive to conclude – that if we want to ensure survival of a product, its value proposition must be deduced to its basic components (the principles upon which it exists), which is the 1% that matters, the 1% that owns the monopoly of all possible variations in the future.

Elon Musk described this eloquently when he was researching ICBM’s for flight’s to Mars. If a rocket is divided to it’s building blocks, the tonnes of copper, kilograms of hydrogen and oxygen, metal alloys, etc – the dollar value of those ingredients is relatively cheap compared to the cost of a functioning rocket. Thus the value must be in the formulation, the recipe of those basic ingredients. With enough brain power this type of value can be replicated and thus the muse for Space X’s existence.

We are back full circle as to why I love that tweet from Tobias. Additional bolt ons to a single product, makes it instantly worse for those who have no need for the extra wing on their rockets! We must have many products for many users – all using the same basic tenets of the initial value proposition.

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