Coevolution in biology occurs when two parties exert selective evolutionary pressures on each other as a result of which they are changed. Once that change happens, it cannot be reversed and there are many examples in nature. Birds and flowers (illustrated), host and symbiote and so on. It's a very useful concept when applied to human systems, and it is not just an analogy, although some of my biologist friends would disagree with me there. One can also get pedantic about restricting the term to a single species, but that need not concern us here.
In management science it offers an interesting alternative to the either/or dichotomies against which I railed yesterday. By increasing the interaction between things we increase the co-evolutionary pressure on both entities so that what emerges will be more resilient. We don't design the outcome, we design the processes of interaction and monitor for emergence. In order to do that we have to think about the granularity, or modularity (if you prefer) of the things and the nature of their interactions. Now the principles are easy, but the practice requires more discipline than conventional management. I'll give two illustrations of where this is useful:
Now we can do the same for customer needs and product development and many other areas. The key aspect of this is early interaction at a finely grained level. Designing for that is a key skill, but one which encourages innovation and will produce more resilient solutions. I'll be blogging with more detail on all of these over the coming months.