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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 November 5, 2019

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    Assuming the public school system didn’t crush your soul, learning is a great activity. It expands your viewpoint. It gives you new knowledge you can use to improve your life. It is important for your personal growth. Even if you discount the worldly benefits, the act of learning can be a source of enjoyment.

    “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” — Mark Twain

    But in a busy world, it can often be hard to fit in time to learn anything that isn’t essential. The only things learned are those that need to be. Everything beyond that is considered frivolous. Even those who do appreciate the practice of lifelong learning, can find it difficult to make the effort.

    Here are some tips for installing the habit of continuous learning:

    1. Always Have a Book

    It doesn’t matter if it takes you a year or a week to read a book. Always strive to have a book that you are reading through, and take it with you so you can read it when you have time.

    Just by shaving off a few minutes in-between activities in my day I can read about a book per week. That’s at least fifty each year.

    2. Keep a “To-Learn” List

    We all have to-do lists. These are the tasks we need to accomplish. Try to also have a “to-learn” list. On it you can write ideas for new areas of study.

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    Maybe you would like to take up a new language, learn a skill or read the collective works of Shakespeare. Whatever motivates you, write it down.

    3. Get More Intellectual Friends

    Start spending more time with people who think. Not just people who are smart, but people who actually invest much of their time in learning new skills. Their habits will rub off on you.

    Even better, they will probably share some of their knowledge with you.

    4. Guided Thinking

    Albert Einstein once said,

    “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

    Simply studying the wisdom of others isn’t enough, you have to think through ideas yourself. Spend time journaling, meditating or contemplating over ideas you have learned.

    5. Put it Into Practice

    Skill based learning is useless if it isn’t applied. Reading a book on C++ isn’t the same thing as writing a program. Studying painting isn’t the same as picking up a brush.

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    If your knowledge can be applied, put it into practice.

    In this information age, we’re all exposed to a lot of information, it’s important to re-learn how to learn so as to put the knowledge into practice.

    6. Teach Others

    You learn what you teach. If you have an outlet of communicating ideas to others, you are more likely to solidify that learning.

    Start a blog, mentor someone or even discuss ideas with a friend.

    7. Clean Your Input

    Some forms of learning are easy to digest, but often lack substance.

    I make a point of regularly cleaning out my feed reader for blogs I subscribe to. Great blogs can be a powerful source of new ideas. But every few months, I realize I’m collecting posts from blogs that I am simply skimming.

    Every few months, purify your input to save time and focus on what counts.

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    8. Learn in Groups

    Lifelong learning doesn’t mean condemning yourself to a stack of dusty textbooks. Join organizations that teach skills.

    Workshops and group learning events can make educating yourself a fun, social experience.

    9. Unlearn Assumptions

    You can’t add water to a full cup. I always try to maintain a distance away from any idea. Too many convictions simply mean too few paths for new ideas.

    Actively seek out information that contradicts your worldview.

    Our minds can’t be trusted, but this is what we can do about it to be wiser.

    10. Find Jobs that Encourage Learning

    Pick a career that encourages continual learning. If you are in a job that doesn’t have much intellectual freedom, consider switching to one that does.

    Don’t spend forty hours of your week in a job that doesn’t challenge you.

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    11. Start a Project

    Set out to do something you don’t know how. Forced learning in this way can be fun and challenging.

    If you don’t know anything about computers, try building one. If you consider yourself a horrible artist, try a painting.

    12. Follow Your Intuition

    Lifelong learning is like wandering through the wilderness. You can’t be sure what to expect and there isn’t always an end goal in mind.

    Letting your intuition guide you can make self-education more enjoyable. Most of our lives have been broken down to completely logical decisions, that making choices on a whim has been stamped out.

    13. The Morning Fifteen

    Productive people always wake up early. Use the first fifteen minutes of your morning as a period for education.

    If you find yourself too groggy, you might want to wait a short time. Just don’t put it off later in the day where urgent activities will push it out of the way.

    14. Reap the Rewards

    Learn information you can use. Understanding the basics of programming allows me to handle projects that other people would require outside help. Meeting a situation that makes use of your educational efforts can be a source of pride.

    15. Make Learning a Priority

    Few external forces are going to persuade you to learn. The desire has to come from within. Once you decide you want to make lifelong learning a habit, it is up to you to make it a priority in your life.

    More About Continuous Learning

    Featured photo credit: Paul Schafer via unsplash.com

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