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How to use natural selection to drive your career

How to use natural selection to drive your career

Charles Darwin was one of the greatest scientific geniuses of all time. His Theory of Evolution is accepted just about universally in the scientific community. It explains that all life is driven by a process that he called Natural Selection.

Life is a constant competition for survival. When creatures reproduce, tiny changes and imperfections are introduced into the next generation. Most fail. But a few, a very few, successful changes and adaptations give their owners an advantage over the competition. These offspring maybe avoid predators more easily, live longer, have more offspring themselves, fight off disease, or get more food. Over the next few generations, those with the advantage will overtake those who don’t have it, until it becomes standard in the population. Repeat this process for millions of years and you produce all life on the Earth as we know it.

You can deliberately use the same process to build up your own natural advantages and do better in the equally competitive environment of working life.

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First, identify something that works well for you, gives you some kind of edge. Maybe it’s a skill, a natural gift, an easy way of doing things others find hard, or even a way of thinking. Whatever it is, take a little while to check it out. Is it truly an advantage? Does it give really you an edge? Can you do it again and again?

Now that you’ve found it, cultivate it deliberately. Use it whenever you can. Refine it. Add to it. Focus on it. Forget those things you don’t do so well. You’re building competitive advantage, not trying to catch up with what others find easier than you do.

When you’ve found and developed one successful adaptation, go find another and repeat the process. Amass as many natural advantages as you can. See what works and go with it, regardless of whether it’s what you expected—or what other people tell you is “good” or “approved.”

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Your aim is simple. By using as many natural advantages as you can find or create for yourself, and using them systematically, you’re giving yourself an edge in that process of Natural Selection. Your aim is to be the one who survives and prospers.

Always give time to doing what you do best. Concentrate on it with a fierce devotion. Try continually to be even better in your chosen field. Keep building on your strengths. Keep adding to your advantages.

And the things that you don’t do so well? Ignore them whenever you can. If you have to deal with them, do the minimum you need to get by. Don’t waste effort going from abysmal to mediocre when you could apply the same effort elsewhere to move from very good to outstanding to spectacular.

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No species ever thrived by working on its weaknesses and forgetting about its natural strengths. European House Sparrows are small, weak, drab birds with no talons or beautiful feathers. They’ve spread just about everywhere in the world by exploiting a single strength—they know how to thrive in towns. The more urban sprawl, the more House Sparrows. Eagles are huge, powerful birds, but you don’t find them living in the center of New York or London. Their habitat is being destroyed by the growth of the very cities that House Sparrows love.

Don’t try to go against the way the world works. Go with it and prosper. Maybe you’ll be like the House Sparrow—one great advantage, ruthlessly exploited, will make you the ultimate success story.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

    , is now available at all good bookstores.

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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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