Archive for May, 2008

The Evolutionary Necessity of Adaptation

May 30, 2008

I started running last year and have become more and more obsessed by it.  I run as often as I can and as far as time allows me.  I run through injuries and this causes more injuries.  Sanity has suggested that I regulate my runs more effectively; I don’t listen. 

Curious about my new obsession I began to research why people run in the hopes of better understanding myself.  What I learned was instructive.  The earliest ancestors of humans evolved as distance runners.  Endurance running aided their survival by allowing them to hunt and gather at a level that allowed sustenance in bad environments.  In better times, it allowed humans to flourish and develop civilization.

Darwin’s survival of the fittest took over and the best runners and best thinkers survived.  Humans are very different than other animals.  We are a lot slower than just about any other predator.  For example, the fastest human, can run about 18 miles an hour.  The grizzly bear, leopard and lion can run about twice as fast.  Human movement indicates we evolved to cover long distances and not to run from predators.  We are not built to run away from enemies, but to outsmart them. 

By the same token we are built to wear out animals during the hunt.  On the plains of the Serengeti our ability to run and our evaporative sweat system let us wear out animals like the antelope who will overheat after a long run.  We evolved not to be faster, but to be smarter and better able to adapt to our eco-system than other creatures.      

Humans evolved over hundreds of thousands of years as hunter-gathers, traveling on foot, often up to 15 miles a day.  Civilization came recently, only about 10,000 years ago, a mere blink of the evolutionary eye.  About 150 years ago the industrial revolution changed our landscape further by bringing us factory work.  We have further transitioned into a service economy, one full of office workers.  These changes in work-life have been too recent to have any impact on who we are as a species.

OK Mark.  So why is all of this important?  I have come to believe that knowing our group or individual predispositions enhances our ability to sustain or improveg our performance over a longer period of time.   

Today’s economy is fast paced, challenging and ever changing.  Like our running ancestors we are wired for the chase.  The human mind is remarkable.  It is capable of remarkable focus and even more remarkable feats.  How else can we explain how a physically weak and slow creature came to dominate the world?  

The human brain enables us to focus on the long term while maintaining the passion of the hunt.  We can strategize.  We can work individually and in groups.  We can adapt our style to new and changing environments.  The economy is very different today than it was over the last several years and yet many people are still performing at high levels.  The landscape has changed, but so can we. 

In fact, humans have physically evolved to adapt quickly to changing environments and have traveled to safer and more fertile environments throughout history.  We do the same thing today.  Your career must also seek fertile environments.   As one market cools down you can transition into a new one.

In this strange new job market what do you need to do to succeed? 

·         Do you need to find new or different industry?

·         Do you need additional training or education?


Now is the time to plan.

As the market evolves my ability and strategy as Director of Human Resources to find, recruit, develop, retain and motivate talent has changed.  There are so many people that avoid change that it is easy to stay ahead of the curve.  Now is your chance as well.

In the not so distant past our aboriginal ancestors would awake.  So would an antelope.  The very survival of each was predicated on success in the chase.  The winner survived; the loser perished.  Humans won the race against other species.  Now we compete among ourselves.  Nevertheless, it is still survival of the fittest.      

This morning, about 6:30, I was running alone alongside a river in the remnants of an arboreal forest.   It had rained heavily for the last several days and I turned my ipod off as my running was goaded by the sounds of the river.  My vision was drawn to an aberration.  I saw a large grey bird flying past me over the river.  I estimated the bird’s wingspan at 6 feet.  Just when I thought the bird a mirage it reappeared.  It was a Blue Herron.  At that moment I learned why I run.  It is the only choice I can make.