Bionomics: A New Way of Thinking About Organizations
by James L. Morrison

[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in On the Horizon, 1995, 3(3), 3-4. It is posted here with permission from Jossey Bass Publishers.]

Michael Rothschild (1994) has developed a new management philosophy for the corporate world, bionomics, that combines economics with biology to push business leaders to examine what they do and how they do it, then improve upon it. Rothschild views the business world as an evolving ecosystem. Organizations must adapt or perish. Those organizations first adapting successfully will prosper the most. To maximize flexibility, corporations must decentralize; empower managers, supervisors, and workers; cross-train them; and incorporate computer networking technologies throughout the organization.

Rothschild argues that conventional economic thinking is based on the premise that future events can be measured with relative precision. However, econometric forecasting on the basis of historical data cannot take into account new developments. For example, in the past, economists could roughly predict how much air travel would increase if the economy grew a certain amount. Today, these forecasts have been compromised by the fax machine, computer networking, and video-teleconferencing via desktop computers. If corporate managers can use a desktop computer to see and interact with their colleagues around the country or around the world, how many business trips will be canceled, regardless of the health of the economy? Because the future is unknowable, the best that organizations can do is maximize flexibility and aggressively pursue opportunities as they come on the horizon.

Although written for business leaders, Rothschild's thesis is applicable to educational leaders. The world is changing rapidly. We need as much lead time as possible to adapt to the challenges of these changes in order to provide effective educational programs. To do this, we need to not only continue decentralizing educational organizations (e.g., in public schools, magnet schools, site-based management) and incorporating computers and telecommunications technology (e.g., email, distance learning), but we need also to incorporate planning methodologies that help us address an uncertain future.

Ian Wilson describes one such method, scenarios, in our lead article. Coincidentally, Ian and I are leading a seminar July 1995 at Saint Andrews University, Scotland, that focuses on the implications of global change, and how to use scenarios to address these implications. The seminar focus and agenda are described in the insert below. Participants will receive a handbook and a copy of the proceedings. For registration information, please contact our office or complete the registration form online in our WWW site at the following URL address:


Rothschild, M. (1994). Bionomics: Economy as ecosystem. New York: Henry Holt.

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