Evolving and Collaborating to Survive

The giraffe is a funny-looking animal. It has a very long neck and huge eyes. To an observer who is used to different proportions and colours, the giraffe is a ridiculous-looking animal. But these traits give the giraffe two adaptations that public servants could learn from.

Long necks allow giraffes to eat leaves off treetops, finding sustenance and opportunities in resources that others cannot see or reach. There are many opportunities (tools, technologies and processes) out there that the public service could explore and use, resources not traditionally available to our partners; sometimes it just takes someone to be a little different and stick their neck out to see them.

But long necks are not the only thing that give giraffes an advantage.

They have incredible eyesight; they can see over 50 km. Coupled with their necks, this means giraffes can see emerging threats on the horizon. Other animals flock to the giraffe, and when a giraffe starts to run – they do too. Giraffes share their knowledge; collaborating by sharing insight and quickly communicating through action.

What at first glance seem like completely absurd adaptations have actually led to major evolutionary advantages.

The irony in government is that often those who cease to evolve and adapt are the ones who survive. They do not collaborate, they create little fiefdoms, information is not readily shared, and no one is willing to take the occasional risk to seek new opportunities. There is no diversity and therefore no resilience. These individuals are setting themselves up for mass extinction.

I will use the example of the dodo: an animal that failed to adapt and therefore was unaware of the danger that presented itself. For thousands of years being flightless and friendly was fine and there was no reason to change, but suddenly there was the introduction of a new threat which fundamentally changed their environment. The dodo didn’t learn and is therefore extinct.

There is a major shift in processes and expectations on how the government could and should interact with the citizens that it serves; we could be the giraffe – find a crazy looking adaptation that provides us with sustenance and protects those around us; or we could be dodos, not adapt and find that we are extinct.

We will never know what the next big thing is, but by seeking new opportunities and resources, taking a longer view and trying to see what is emerging on the horizons, and sharing this information and promoting diversity, we can strengthen our ability to respond. The public service has what it would take to be an agile and resilient organization responding to the emerging needs of Canadians. The choice is ours; to adapt and embrace difference, or become irrelevant.


Tabatha Soltay Tabatha Soltay: Agent of Chaos, General Do’er, innovator, and networker. Tabatha has a Master’s in Tree-Hugging from the University of Oxford, a minor in life, and applied experience in process design and facilitation. Tabatha has recently left the public service, but continues to share and apply what she has learned from various experiences, helping people become collaborative and creative one project at a time. While not plotting and scheming to help others, she travels and bakes. You can reach her on Twitter @tabtalks.

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