Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The cultural founder effect

The founder effect describes dynamics where a partly-isolated niche is invaded by a small number of immigrants, whose descendants go on to dominate the niche. The offspring population often exhibits reduced genetic diversity.

The founder effect is about equally applicable to cultural and organic evolution.

Often the easiest places to observe the founder effect is on isolated islands. They represent a kind of natural microscope for students of the founder effect. Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, Japan, Tasmania and Madagascar are all places that exhibit both genetic and cultural founder effects.

Cultural founder effects can be seen in large organizations that grow from small ones. Often the founders of organizations have unusual ideas of various kinds - which they sometimes go on to impose on the corporations they end up directing. Apple and Microsoft are both famous examples of this.

Founder effects are also seen in products. The Xerox copiers, Coca-cola, The Sony Walkman, and the Apple iPhone are product lines that started with single product, and then subsequently underwent substantial proliferation. If you are the first to market with a product in a new niche, the changes are good that you will launch the second and third products in that space as well.

Cultural evolution exhibits what is known as the serial founder effect as well. This takes place when there's a string of founder effects, one after the other. For example, we can see this when there's a chain of companies founding new start-ups from existing employees - and existing corporate culture.

The cultural founder effect is an important effect to understand when considering product development. Since the descendant of cultural founders can monopolize product niches for a while, creating cultural founders is the aim of many, and identifying cultural founders is valuable to investors and trend spotters.

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