Darwin, Einstein, and Change

March/April 2018

NSPE Today: Outlook
Darwin, Einstein, and Change



Charles Darwin studied change in the 19th century and upended humankind’s view of itself and of the world. Albert Einstein studied math and physics in the 20th century, created what may be the world’s most famous equation, and changed our understanding of light. Licensed engineers toil in the 21st century conceptualizing, planning, designing, constructing, and maintaining global infrastructure, striving to protect the public health, safety, and welfare in an ever changing, complex world.

Illustration with arrowsDarwin is quoted as having said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most responsive to change.” However, a quick reference search reveals controversy and debate. Some believe the quote came from a Louisiana State University professor speaking about Darwin in 1963. In 2008, the California Academy of Science embedded the quote in concrete as “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptive to change.”

Who said what? Adaptive or responsive? In the case of NSPE, does it matter?

Regarding change, Einstein said, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” W. Edwards Deming, arguably the industrial world’s most effective management consultant said, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”

On July 2, 1776, our founding fathers decided that change was necessary—with a unanimous declaration. Getting there took years of study, rancorous debate, and ultimately, compromise. In fact, on the day of the final vote, two delegates (loyalists to England) stayed home, one state abstained, and another state changed its vote to make it unanimous. All joined the fight. Unity of principle won out over self-interest.

Which brings me back to NSPE. Last year, leaders from around the country overwhelmingly decided it was time for the Society to change its thinking about the structure of membership. Today, your board of directors is working to implement the plan while holding fast to the organization’s guiding principles. We’ve decided that change is necessary to survive. We hope that all state partners will do the same. Quoting Einstein: “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”

Anyone familiar with early US history knows that the unity of the 13 colonies was not perfect; debate and compromise continue into 2018. Unity of purpose, however, allowed the colonies to focus, to fight a war against the largest military and naval force of the time, and win! Likewise, NSPE unity of purpose will allow us to focus, to fend off attacks to licensure, to grow our membership, and to protect the public health, safety, and welfare in the face of rapidly changing technology.

NSPE can also find inspiration in the words of Jack Welch, chemical engineer and former CEO of GE. Welch once said, “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” During his tenure at GE, the company’s value rose 4,000%.

Paralleling Welch’s management philosophy, the NSPE Vision states: “NSPE is a member-centric, nimble, future-focused and responsive organization, serving as the recognized voice and advocate of licensed Professional Engineers.”

Unity with the newly approved membership model and focus on our vision creates an opportunity for NSPE to win. Declare your unity with other licensed PEs, sign the NSPE Declaration of Unity, and join the fight to change the hearts and minds of those who do not understand the value of engineering licensure!