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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 June 13, 2019

10 Best Success Books You Need to Read to Be Great at Business

10 Best Success Books You Need to Read to Be Great at Business

Take a minute and think about some of the most successful people you know.

I’d bet they’re great with people, are super-productive, and think differently than most. After all, that’s how they got to be where they are today.

Jealous of them? You don’t have to be.

You can learn these same skills by studying some of the best business and success books that can help you take your game to the next level. Here’re 10 of my favorites:

1. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

    Dale Carnegie’s best-selling book that helped to launch a personal growth empire should be required reading for everyone who wants to learn how to build and nurture relationships for a lifetime.

    Read this book and you’ll learn some simple advice than can help you build popularity points within your current network and just as important, expand it to others.

    Get the book here!

    2. Focal Point by Brian Tracy

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      Got a lot on your to-do list? Of course you do. But what separates productive people from others is their ability to focus on a singular task at a time, and getting it done before moving on to the next one.

      Sounds simple in theory, but this can be extremely difficult in practice. In Focal Point Brian Tracy offers tips to help build discipline and organization into your day so you can get more stuff done.

      Get the book here!

      3. Purple Cow by Seth Godin

        Creating a “me-too” product can be easy at the start but can doom you to business failure. That’s why marketing maverick Seth Godin recommends creating a product that is truly different from anything already available in the marketplace.

        In essence by making the product different you’ll be building the marketing into the actual product development…which just makes your actual marketing a helluva lot easier.

        Get the book here!

        4. The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz

          If you’ve struggled with procrastination or small thinking, this is the book for you. In it Schwartz offers practical advice that can help you get inspired and motivated to create a bigger life for yourself. And with it can be a more lucrative and rewarding career.

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          Get the book here!

          5. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankel

            It can be difficult for lots of people to keep things in perspective, especially when working on high priority and urgent projects at work.

            Man’s Search for Meaning can be a life-changing book in the sense that it can open your eyes to a first-hand experience of one of the greatest atrocities in the history of mankind, while also teaching a valuable lesson about having purpose.

            Get the book here!

            6. The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss

              Solo-entrepreneurs can learn a ton from the guy who made lifestyle design popular. But guess what? The 4HWW isn’t just for guys and girls who want to start a small online business.

              Smart moves like outsourcing, following the 80/20 rule, and automating processes should be made by entry-level workers and established executives alike.

              Get the book here!

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              7. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

                I remember sitting on a couch and opening this book on a Saturday morning, thinking I’d get through a chapter and then get on with my day. Instead, about 12 hours later, I was finished with the book. The concepts in it were mind-blowing to me.

                To think that thoughts can create your reality sounded a little far-fetched at first. But after going through the book and understanding that your thoughts create your beliefs, which lead to actions, which then lead to habits….well you can get where I’m going with this.

                If you focus your thoughts on success, achieving it will be much more likely than thinking about obstacles, failures and everything else that can get in your way.

                Get the book here!

                8. The One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard

                  If you’re going to read one management book in your life, this should be it. It’s simple. You can read it in an afternoon. And the advice works.

                  Get the book here!

                  9. The Lean Start-Up by Eric Ries

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                    Before you create any sort of business you’ll want to give Lean Start-Up a read through. Doing so can save you money, time and other resources you could have potentially wasted otherwise.

                    Get the book here!

                    10. The Monk and the Riddle by Randy Komisar

                      The story Randy Komisar shares in the Monk and the Riddle offers advice about not just about how you need to think when starting a new business, but also about how to build a life you’re passionate about.

                      Understanding the technical aspects of launching a start-up is great, but if you don’t have the staying power to stick with it when the going gets tough then it’s not likely to work.

                      This book can help you understand this lesson before you spend blood, sweat and tears on a project that you’re heart isn’t into.

                      Get the book here!

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