We Could All Learn a Lesson in Agility from Extremophiles

By Brian Lucas

This one’s for Wendi, who I believe is “Going Agile!”

“The facts of variability, of the struggle for existence, of adaptation to conditions, were notorious enough; but none of us had suspected that the road to the heart of the species problem lay through them, until Darwin and Wallace dispelled the darkness.” ― Thomas Henry Huxley

An extremophile[1] is an organism that thrives in physically extreme conditions that are non-survivable to most life on the planet Earth.  They are the masters of adaptability and survival.  They seem to be in every extreme environment no matter how hot, cold, dry or dark and can withstand crushing pressures and thin atmospheres.  What is the secret to their adaptability? This year alone, scientists found bacteria living in the cold and dark in a lake buried a half-mile deep under the ice in Antarctica[2].  Researchers also suggested that microbial life forms thrive in the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot in the Earth’s ocean[3].  Researchers even postulate sustainable communities of microbes living and reproducing in clouds without ever reaching the surface of our planet.  These forms of life are not only highly adaptive these are ancient.  According to astrophysicist Dr. Steinn Sigurdsson, “There are viable bacterial spores that have been found that are 40 million years old on Earth[4].

These forms of life succeed because they focus on the fundamentals and get them right. They intake raw materials, produce energy, eliminate waste and reproduce.  They don’t get distracted by things that are not essential to their survival.  They might not be the most sophisticated forms of life, but they have survived global cataclysms that wiped out most other forms of life.  Focusing on the fundamentals is an important part of success in all walks of life.  Take baseball and martial arts.  When I played ball it was keep your eye on the ball.  In Kung Fu it was learning to breathe correctly.  Many times when I temporarily lost my focus, I returned to the basics and found myself again.

Adapting to agile thinking is not an impossible feat.  Just focus on the basics of employee empowerment, customer engagement, critical features and functions only, and rapid demonstrable iterations. If extremophiles can survive unbelievably harsh conditions, surely traditional executives and managers can learn to adapt to agile thinking.  After all you are smarter than a microbe, aren’t you? Until next time, keep agile!


[1] See Rothschild, L.J.; Mancinelli, R.L. Life in extreme environments. Nature 2001

[2] See Gorman, James. “Bacteria Found Deep Under Antarctic Ice, Scientists Say”. New York Times, February 6, 2013.

[3] See Choi, Charles Q. “Microbes Thrive in Deepest Spot on Earth”. LiveScience, March 17, 2013.

[4] See BBC Staff. “Impacts ‘more likely’ to have spread life from Earth”. BBC, August 23, 2011.

About Brian Lucas

In his life, Brian Lucas has been a coach, farm worker, forester, health care advocate, life guard, general contractor, mechanic, mixologist, musician/singer (in a rock group), salesman and teacher. Brian has worked as a project manager, technical marketer, methodologist, manager, software architect, systems designer, data modeler, business analyst, systems programmer, software developer and creative writer. These efforts include over a hundred hi-tech initiatives in almost every business and industrial sector as well as government and military projects. Among them, he designed and developed a quality assurance system for the first transatlantic fiber optic communications network, a manufacturing system for a large computer manufacture’s seven manufacturing centers, a data mining system for steel production, an instrumentation system for cable systems, defined requirements for government’s information systems and designed and developed human performance management systems. Brian has educated and mentored many over the years, designing programs to discover and develop talent. He has also lectured extensively to a variety of audiences. Brian is currently devoting as much time as possible to the innovation of business agility and human capital management along with the next generation of agile software development. As an amateur theoretical physicist he is working on joining general relativity and quantum mechanics through a multidimensional time corollary on string theory and negating the uncertainty principle with Louis de Broglie’s wave/particle hypothesis. He is also an avid blue-water sailor and wilderness backpacker. He enjoys billiards, boxing, chess, cooking, famous battle reenactments and war gaming, fencing, flying, gardening, horseback riding, martial arts (particularly Ninjutsu), philosophy and psychology, playing musical instruments (7 so far), poker, rapid-fire target shooting, reading (he tries to read a new book every night), painting with oils, scuba diving, skiing and recently writing novels.
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8 Responses to We Could All Learn a Lesson in Agility from Extremophiles

  1. Edward Smith says:

    Brian – While it has been a while since I commented, I have followed your blog faithfully. I feel I now have a degree in Agile thinking after reading your posts and learning your broad approach to Agile Thinking. I can affirm as a business consultant, I have practiced what you have advocated here and it has helped my business. I am not in the IT arena, but have utilized the basic fundamentals of agile to good advantage. Thank you for opening my eyes to this possibility! -Edward Smith

  2. Patricia Hardy, Phd. says:

    This is a very enlightened post spanning the gulf of science and business. It was unusually enjoyable to read! I find the recent revelations about the seemingly intelligent behavior of microscopic life and even the apparent indicators of macrobiotic tissues other than the brain being able to store memories, profoundly change the scope of what we historically have deemed to be intelligence. Being a biologist, I am less prejudiced about considering these so called lower forms of life as having their own ability to reason, even if in a limited way. Perhaps the gulf between the extremophiles and business executives is not as great as you might think. On a different scale entirely, I have a friend who is a cosmologist and she told me that the latest hypothesis is that the entire universe is alive. I would like to hear your opinion on this postulation.

  3. Beverly Thomas says:

    Wow this is brilliant! I totally agree with Patricia. I had to check out your bio after reading this and I have to say I am impressed! Someone with a science background who understands business and can write this well!!! Where have you been hiding???? Do you have any books? Is she serious about the universe being ALIVE? It sounds like you should be sitting on a mountaintop dispensing wisdom! I would love to hear the answer to her question as well!

  4. Jack says:

    Brian if I might paraphrase your message here, microbes are successful because they KEEP IT SIMPLE! Am I wrong? – Jack

  5. Fran C. Zabrinski says:

    Hey Brian since there are already managers with microscopic brains running this place, extremophiles probably won’t help! Interesting post as always! Don’t know how you come up with these! Have to meet you some day!

  6. Madoka says:

    To learn from nature is wise because she is the mother of all teachers. You are a true Master Agilist!

    • Brenda Lynch, PMP says:

      Hi Brian! I came across your blog and for some reason this post’s title struck my eye. I wasn’t sure what an extremophile is and I still am not, but I like your emphasis on the fundamentals. We are struggling with our agile implementation at our shipping company and I think it is because the consultants we hired are too rigid in their scrum approach and are not adapting to our needs. I was hoping I could ask you a few questions offline. Would you mind if I contacted you by email? Thanks a lot! Brenda

  7. Ernie Kaufman says:

    This was an unusual lesson. I did not know what an extremeophile was. I am not sure I understood everything you said but I know I learned something about agile and survivability!

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