The Tree of History

Charles Darwin was apparently the first-ever person to draw anything like the image above. It's a "phylogenetic" graphic i.e. a kind of family tree of how species may have emerged from others back in the mists of evolutionary time. It's a deep implication of evolutionary theory and the basis of such modern day wonders as tracing genetic ancestry and your evolutionary origins.

I've been developing a comparable application of the same idea to the "evolution" of industries and technologies. For instance, places such as Japan, Italy or the UK have had banks (i.e. firms for financial deposits and related transactions) from the 1600's; earlier in Italy. These banks have grown. Most grew and then got acquired. Most that grew did so by acquisition. While the majority were born, merged or were acquired and then disappeared (either via extinguishing the brand or via bankruptcy), some were "birthed" via spin-off or some variation of demerger. Hence the emergence of a globally-dominant sector - banking - bears comparison to the phylogenetic origins of species. Some species wiped out, some "diverging" from parents, and some remain barely-changed over time.

What, you ask, is the point of such analysis? It turns out that analysing the frequency of such events - acquisition, diverging, remaining undisturbed - can predict the survival rates of those organizations involved. Whether such putatively-causal effects are common to technologies, ideas or cultural artefacts remains to be seen.


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