Mr Darwin and your career evolution is a hell of a title I’m sure you will agree. Initially, it might be a tough sell to ask the reader to make a connection between what you do for a living and how, according to the theory, species evolve and survive. However, Darwin’s theory can be applied to lots of diverse areas with a bit of creativity. Such as the survival of fittest and natural selection of careers, trades, businesses and industries. We see industries and jobs rise, fall and sometimes become extinct when the economic landscape changes. So don’t be too quick to dismiss my navel-gazing as it might just help you to reframe your career. So with a little bit of faith leaping, Mr Darwin and his theory might just give your career and your career evolution a whole new perspective.
Mr Darwin and his theory
I am guessing we all know all about Darwinian natural selection & the five theories contained within. Of course, you do, silly of me even to suggest otherwise. However, If you need a quick reminder, have a quick look at this website run by Christ’s College in Cambridge. Mr Darwin’s theory and Herbert Spencer’s term survival of the fittest describe how different species can evolve. Species with characteristics that made them better adapted for survival. They may have been stronger, faster, brainier or more attractive than others in their species. These creatures were more likely to reproduce and pass on their useful characteristics to their offspring etc. Of course, this is an oversimplified view but you get my point. Needless to say, the idea might not swing with our Creationist friends of course who have other ideas to Mr Darwin. However, the idea here is to ask you to take a leap of faith with me. I want to explore how we can use the theory to perhaps get a different perspective on business and career evolution.
The question then is how can these theories be used to shed light upon how industries, businesses & careers evolve? How can we find a niche and know that our career “fits” the environment you find yourself? Can we use our talents, strengths, skills, knowledge and experience to compete and adapt, or even mutate into a new job or career path? Perhaps if we can use these theories imaginatively, it will help us see our careers in a way of constant movement. Learning to be adaptable, resourceful and able to evolve to fill a niche to give us a competitive edge.
The Business of Natural Selection
By this time I am sure your imagination is starting to make the connections between natural selection, the survival of the fittest and how businesses & careers are born, develop and sometimes die out. Businesses have to compete for resources, find a niche & evolve through small but distinct stages. Indeed some variants or mutations may help to adapt better to their environment.
Now how does all this apply to your career I hear you cry. We could start to factor in from evolutionary theory, whether or not your career is a generalist or a specialist for example. According to ecological theory, a generalist species is able to survive in a wide variety of habitats and eat different types of foods. Specialist species require a very unique set of conditions to thrive and have a limited diet. The Panda who only eats Bamboo and the Tiger Salamander, that just lives in freshwater and eats worms and insects almost exclusively, are specialists.
Specialist or Generalist Careers?
Now then let’s say you are a jack of all trades and a master of none, clearly, you can’t then be everything to everyone. Generalists can have more transferable skills, make great managers, and can a good general appreciation of how the business functions. In a changing workplace, these general transferable skills are becoming increasingly more important. As these skills come in handy in many situations. Generalist can often enjoy a wide range of career options and can have more loosely defined roles. Working in a number of different positions in many different business environments. Generalists, however, sometimes find it difficult to capture their value position well enough. Therefore not necessarily differentiating themselves sufficiently from the competition. Hence, with the continuous lack of focus on gaining that all important niche, generalist careers can lose out to more specialist careers in the long run.
Specialists, on the other hand, focus on being a leader in their niche industry and are clear about the benefits and skills they can bring to a business. Specialists are often viewed as an expert by the customer or employer. Perhaps recognised through achievements, mastery and legacies or how they present themselves to the world.
Specialists have gained valuable knowledge in their particular subject area. As a result, a specialist can be of unique value for a company. The organisation will often have a number of specialists operating in different areas, therefore the whole of the organisation can rely on their expertise. This not only provides higher chances of a better position but can also provide the specialist with more control over career opportunities. Besides we all look for an expert or specialist rather than generalist when we have a problem.
However, a narrowed focus and expert skills in a particular area mean can mean that there may only be work in this small field. Remember the Panda and the dependency on Bamboo. So when deciding between generalist and specialist career paths, you need to carefully consider the type of person you are, your motivation, skills you have or need.
Compete to stay ahead
Being a specialist or generalist is not always as binary as it may sound. As with most aspects of a career, it’s about having a blend of specialisms and generalist skills. Hybrid skills that have the ability to adapt to situations quickly are always essential in business today. However, highly specialist roles in some industries just die out, due to the business moving into new markets. Or perhaps the industry dying out altogether. Think coal industry and coal miners. Whether you are a generalist or specialist will largely depend upon your fit for the role you are looking for.
The term “fit & fitness” can, of course, mean many things. However, in terms of your career, we can use the theory to overlay your talents, strengths, skills, abilities, knowledge of your job and how your career trajectory fits into the changing landscape of work. I bet your job or work is not the same as it was a few years ago? You and your work have evolved steadily. Your job may have been made redundant in the past and have had to make significant adaptations of your skills and abilities through re-training or re-branding yourself into a distinctly new career species.
The big question is does your skill set and career fit with where you need or want to be? Do you take a risk and mutate into a new career path or do you find new and novel adaptations to re-invent yourself to help maintain your competitive edge?
Your Competitive Edge
- To start to find your competitive edge, spend time focussing on what you do best to help others see the value you deliver and the difference you make. Focus on your positive attributes, talents, skills and knowledge etc.
- When you have found your competitive edge – cultivate it actively and deliberately. Refine it, add to it & continually re-focus on it. Move on from those things you don’t do so well, build on your advantage and don’t just try to catch up with what others can do easier than you do.
- You are in competition with all of the candidates for that perfect job or business around you. What can you do they can’t, what makes you, (your product or service) so marketable and add value? Are you a specialist or a generalist? If so how does that bring benefits in your area of work?
- Take stock of your talents, strengths, skills etc to know what you do well and where you can fill a niche to add value to a business and or your customers.
- Build clarity with your career specialisms – aim at utilising and promoting strengths to enable your career to evolve in a direction you want to go.
- Now you have found and developed your career adaptation, find another and keep repeating the process. Create as many natural advantages as you can. See what works and go with it, regardless of whether it’s what you expected or not. Be flexible and open to opportunity.
I guess it’s not important whether or not you agree with the use of Mr Darwin’s theory of natural selection for your career or business. The goal is to just to start to think differently if you are stuck or perhaps need some inspiration from somewhere. Thinking differently about what you need to do to or to take you to where you want to be. Are you are a specialist or a generalist, what strengths and natural talents have you? Or if you need to develop new skills to survive in a new employment landscape? All interesting questions that established ways of thinking about your evolution at work.
Hopefully, this article will help you see your career or business through different eyes. Perhaps you might think that using Darwinian theory or evolution is useful for you going forward. Don’t try to go against the way that natural selection works with your career or business. Try to go with it and prosper. Take a look at how your business or industry is changing and evolving, can you adapt with it? If not where do you go next and how? Create your competitive edge, overcome barriers, exploit your natural attributes and plan for your future.
Clearly, and regardless of the theory of evolution, grasping the fact that work and your career is about being agile and nimble on your feet to find that competitive advantage. It will help you (or your business) see environmental changes as a challenge so you can adapt and manage change effectively. So don’t be Dinosaur take control of your career evolution as it’s in your hands.