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.
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.”
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.
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