Organizations and organisms are both complex systems exposed to evolutionary changes. We challenge the perspective of mainstream evolutionary theory, according to which evolutionary progress is accomplished in terms of blind variation and external selection. Instead, we present a perspective that complies with Bateson’s emphasis on the “negative” character of cybernetic explanation, which offers explanations in terms of constraints rather than causes or forces. His concept of “pathways of viability” is aligned with the work of evolutionary theorists such as Waddington, von Bertalanffy, Riedl, and Kauffman, who reject external physical causation in favor of internally-driven “stimulus-and-response” and therefore move the focus from external selection to epigenetic mechanisms. Such a cybernetic evolutionary theory responds to various open questions in biology and management theory, including the dispute between homogenists and heterogenists as well as “path-dependence” in companies. We conclude that the strongest players are not those who adapt to the economic environment but those who emerge from it by co-creating it.
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