Is it survival of the fittest… or of the most adaptable?

If this pandemic has proven nothing else, it’s that when it comes to business, the old “survival of the fittest” mantra is a complete myth.

I’ve always hated that phrase because it’s generally touted by people who haven’t really grasped its many flaws, whether they’re using it in connection with the natural world, or the business one.

So often it’s interpreted as being about competition, about stepping on whoever you need to in order to ensure your own survival. Yet, the strongest ecosystems — as well as the strongest business markets — occur when we have harmony and balance, when we prioritize collaboration over competition. And when we value resilience and the ability to adapt to the environment.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Okay, so a quick google assures me that Charles Darwin didn’t actually write one of “his” most famous quotes. But I’m going with it anyway, because I see the sense in it!

And if you swap out “species” for “business” — or even “choir” — it perfectly describes what we’ve all witnessed over the last few difficult months.

We’ve seen the collapse of so many big businesses and so many well-established organizations that seemed to have their markets cornered. And conversely we’ve seen the rise of the smaller, more nimble companies. Companies that were able to pivot quickly, to change their audience, to change their market, to change their offering, to change the way they do business.

There are the boutique fashion designers who have impressed us all with their gorgeous face masks. The alcohol distillers who’ve made a fortune from switching to sales of hand sanitizer. The local personal trainers who’ve launched online membership sites and transformed clients from all over the country.

And, to pluck another random example, the choir leaders who have given virtual rehearsals a go, have managed to collaborate with out-of-work musicians from around the world, and have ended up with more members than ever!

In every one of these success stories we see two common threads.

Yes, there’s the theme of adaptability and resilience: we’ve all had to find new ways of working and to absorb the risks inherent in trying something new.

But more than that, we see businesses that didn’t just look at what they needed to survive, but businesses that looked at what the people they serve needed to thrive, whether that was hand sanitizer, face masks, or the feeling of community that, for a while at least, could only be found online.

And as choir directors, that’s the stance we need to take if we — and our communities — are going to continue to thrive through these difficult times.

We know the need for music is as strong as ever. Stronger, in fact. But we need to adapt, not only the way we deliver that music, but the very music we choose to share. We need to adapt to what our singers need from one week to the next.

We’ve already seen that over the last few months: at first you might have concentrated on leading your people in songs about survival, about strength. Songs to reassure them we’d get through the crisis and find light at the other side. A few weeks later you might have tapped into the community’s need to mourn the thousands who had already died.

Now, it’s a resurgence of civil rights music to mark the killing of George Floyd and to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

It feels like every week there’s a new emotion to work through, a new milestone to mark, a new need to be met. And doing so will require new levels of flexibility; we all have to learn to roll with the punches and above all, to sing the song that feels right in these rapidly changing times.

And the best way to do this?

It’s not about asking how you, as a business or as a choir director, can survive; it’s about asking “how can I help?” It’s about focusing not on “what do I need” but rather on “what is needed”.

Above all, it’s about surviving — and thriving — together. It’s about collaboration, not competition. Because that’s the adaptation we need most. That’s how we’ll survive, not just as choir directors or entrepreneurs, but as a society. Heck, that’s how we’re going to survive as a species.

Not by fighting to be the fittest, but by deciding that we only survive by coming together. By understanding that we only survive when everyone’s needs are met.

If you’re struggling to adapt your choir as we work our way through the COVID crisis, I’d love to help you survive and thrive with one of my choir coaching packages.