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True Darwinism

True Darwinism

Everyone knows that Charles Darwin said life was “the survival of the fittest.” Everyone knows it, but it isn’t true. The Theory of Evolution is based on the observation that those species best adapted to their environment over time (and that means millions of years) will survive. Changes that improve this adaptation remain to be passed on to offspring; those that worsen it are quickly lost.

In business, Mr. Darwin’s earth-shattering theory is reduced nowadays to a platitude about unrestrained competition. The idea the toughest, most ambitious, meanest and most hard-driving people and organizations must invariably come out on top is nonsense. Nothing could be further from Darwin’s theory. “Fittest” for evolution means “fitting best into the circumstances,” not something about being physically fit or mentally tough.

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I am a birder. I watch birds. And birds reveal plainly that neither size, nor strength, nor aggression guarantee success. Take the California Condor. It’s one of the largest birds in the world, bigger and more powerful than any eagle, but it only survives because of people’s efforts. It cannot adapt to changes in its environment (caused by people as well) and would be extinct now without artificial breeding programs. Compare this with the House Sparrow, which is small, weak, nonaggressive and exists in billions everywhere you go.

Species success among birds depends mostly on being clever and adaptable, like starlings, crows and the like. Those that need specialized diets and environments, even massive birds of prey, are always vulnerable to extinction. Among individual birds too, success in finding a mate doesn’t depend on size, strength or physical fitness alone.

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Take the House Finch (a common US bird). Brighter, redder males are preferred as mates. This is partly an indicator of health, but the red color in fact comes from chemicals in their food. It’s not produced by the bird itself. So being bright red shows you feed well, which likely means you’ll be good at finding food for your mate and offspring. You’re not more aggressive or fitter, just better at feeding yourself.

But there’s a twist. While most male birds are likely to mate with any willing female (promiscuity varies by species), so are most females keen to mate with males other than their partner. DNA studies have shown that many females slip away for a brief fling with some other male, often one younger and less “fit” to father their offspring than their regular mate. The chicks in the nest may well have multiple fathers. So much for the claim that only the genes of the “fittest” males are passed on to the next generation. Competition may be natural, but the basis on which individuals compete is rarely clear-cut. Among people, competition is even more complex. Will the winner be the biggest, the strongest, the most cunning or the most ruthless? Or none of these?

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History provides some interesting clues. The Roman Emperor Augustus was neither a successful general nor an imposing figure, yet he created the pattern for his successors for four hundred years. His immediate successor, Tiberius, was both, but a disaster as emperor. Napoleon Bonaparte was neither physically big nor the typical tough-guy. Hitler was a hypochondriac vegetarian and a failure at nearly everything except becoming a mad dictator. Winston Churchill was elderly, fat and a heavy drinker and smoker when he lead Britain through its “darkest hour.” Franklin D. Roosevelt was crippled by polio.

In human affairs, as in many animal and bird species, success is mostly about adaptability, curiosity and brainpower. The ones who succeed in the long term, which is all that counts, aren’t necessarily macho or even specially ruthless. They’re good learners, quick to adapt and able to exploit changing circumstances to their advantage. Hitler and Stalin may have been powerful dictators (for a while), but neither could get past the idea of imposing their will by force alone. The authoritarian systems they created died with them. In evolutionary terms, both were dead-ends.

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As I write this, it’s Veterans Day in the US and Armistice Day in Britain. The day we remember those who gave their lives in war to preserve our freedom. Were they all macho tough-guys? No, they were ordinary people willing to make extraordinary efforts when necessity demanded them. Did naked might and ruthless dictatorship win the day? No, they were destroyed.

There are some important lessons there for corporate bosses who take refuge in a flawed understanding of evolution, and run their corporations on the basis of the short-term survival of the most ambitious and macho.

Adrian Savage is an Englishman and a retired business executive who lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his thoughts most days at The Coyote Within and Slow Leadership, the site for anyone who wants to bring back the fun and satisfaction to management work.

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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

What Everyone Is Wrong About Achieving Inbox Zero

What Everyone Is Wrong About Achieving Inbox Zero

Ah, Inbox Zero. An achievement that so many of us long for. It’s elusive. It’s a productivity benchmark. It’s an ongoing battle.

It’s also unnecessary.

Don’t get me wrong, the way Inbox Zero was initially termed is incredibly valuable. Merlin Mann coined the phrase years ago and what he has defined it as goes well beyond the term itself.[1]

Yet people have created their own definition of Inbox Zero. They’re not using it with the intent that Mann suggested. Instead, it’s become about having nothing left in immediate view. It’s become about getting your email inbox to zero messages or having an empty inbox on your desk that was once filled with papers. It’s become about removing visual clutter.

But it’s not about that. Not at all.

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Here’s what inbox zero actually is, as defined by Mann:

“It’s about how to reclaim your email, your atten­tion, and your life. That “zero?” It’s not how many mes­sages are in your inbox–it’s how much of your own brain is in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be. That’s it.” – Merlin Mann

The Fake Inbox Zero

The sense of fulfillment one gets from clearing out everything in your inbox is temporary at best, disappointing at worst. Often we find that we’re shooting for Inbox Zero just so that we can say that we’ve got “everything done that needed to be done”. That’s simply not the case.

Certainly, by removing all of your things that sit in your inbox means that they are either taken care of or are well on their way to being taken care of. The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” is often applied to clearing out your inbox. But unless you’ve actually done something with the stuff, it’s either not worth having in your inbox in the first place or is still sitting in your “mental inbox”.

You have to do something with the stuff, and for many people, that is a hard thing to do. That’s why Inbox Zero – as defined by Mann – is not achieved as often as many people would like to believe. It’s this “watered down” concept of Inbox Zero that is completed instead. You’ve got no email in your inbox and you’ve got no paper on your desk’s inbox. So that must mean you’re at Inbox Zero.

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Until the next email arrives or the next document comes your way. Then you work to get rid of those as quickly as possible so that you can get back to Inbox Zero: The Lesser again. If it’s something that can be dealt with quickly, then you get there. But if they require more time, then soon you’ve got more stuff in your inboxes. So you switch up tasks to get to the things that don’t require as much time or attention so that you can get closer to this stripped down variation of Inbox Zero.

However, until you deal with the bigger items, you don’t quite get there. Some people feel as if they’ve let themselves (or others) down if they don’t get there. And that, quite frankly, is silly. That’s why this particular version of Inbox Zero doesn’t work.

The Ultimate Way to Get to Inbox Zero

So what’s the ultimate way to get to Inbox Zero?

Have zero inboxes.

The inbox is meant to be a stop along the way to your final destination. It’s the place where stuff sits until you’re ready to put it in the place where it sits until you’re ready to deal with it.

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So why not skip the inbox altogether? Why not put it in the place where it sits until you’re ready to deal with it? Because that requires immediate action. It means you need to give the item some thought and attention.

You need to step back and look at it rather than file it. That’s why we have a catch-all inbox, both for email and for analog items. It allows us to only look at these things when we’re ready to do so.

The funny thing is that we can decide when we’re ready to without actually looking at the inbox beforehand. We can look at things on our own watch rather than when we are alerted to or feel the need to.

There is no reason why you need an inbox at all to store things for longer than it sits there before you see it. None. It’s a choice. And the choice you should be making is how to deal with things when you first see them, rather than when to deal with things you haven’t looked at yet.

Stop Faking It

Seeing things in your inboxes is simply using your sight. Looking at things in your inbox when you first see them is using insight.

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Stop checking email more than twice per day. Turn off your alerts. Put your desk’s inbox somewhere that it can be accessed by others and only accessed by you when you’re ready to deal with what’s in it. Don’t put it on your desk – that’s productivity poison.

If you want to get to Inbox Zero — the real Inbox Zero — then get rid of those stops along the way. You’ll find that by doing that, you’ll be getting more of the stuff you really want done finished much faster, rather than see them moving along at the speed of not much more than zero.

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Featured photo credit: Web Hosting via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Merlin Mann: Inbox Zero

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