Be more like Evolution !
I am halfway (ok maybe one third ) into writing the second part of my series on CAI (Conscious Artificial Intelligence), and I’ve been reviewing a lot of biological systems across species; from bats to worms to chimpanzees and humans, invariably I keep scratching my head at some of the solutions that life has come up with; solutions that on the surface seem to make no sense due to how baroque, complex or even unnecessary they seem, but then I am reminded of the following phrase/essay:
Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution”
Some Credentials :
We take most of it for granted, but we humans and other animals out there sharing this moment in time are the result of some 4,000 Million years of a process we call evolution, in product terms and for the time being, we be hot stuff, the best seller, the finest work and the temporary culmination of life’s pursuit of life ,never mind that trees and insects are arguably more successful as species, or that we could be replaced relatively soon ( a few million years ).
With such an impressive resume what kind of advice would Evolution give us if it suddenly decided to write a productivity or self improvement book ?
Small aside...So who do we turn to when we are lost and need direction or have problems small and large ?Increasingly we ask some guy that got lucky with his startup, is a sweet talker or inherited a small fortune, he has a book and a seminar in which he will happily tell you ( for a small fee ) how to be successful; and listen if that works for you fine, but I think its a bit wasteful not to consult other sources.
1. Evolution reuses strategies.
If something worked in domain X , the first thing one should attempt is to try it on domain Y, if it doesn’t work, the next strategy is to adapt it.
We are tempted to try new things to solve new problems, but how often do we look around and see the problems we’ve already solved and use the exact same methods, or something similar ? Novelty is important, but only if it serves a purpose.
2. Evolution is frugal and hates waste.
Evolution is ever mindful of how much energy goes into something vs what it gets in return, and don’t you think it is a cheap date, if there is something that seems to work, it has not problem devoting more resources to it, and once proven it goes all out, cutting resources ruthlessly to those things that do not work.
This is perhaps the most common productivity hack used in business, especially when times are difficult; focus on your core business, cut costs, follow Pareto’s rule… but it also serves in the personal improvement realm; no matter how rich or poor you are, you will always have a limited amount of time at your disposal, you can optimize it by working more and spending less, since time is money, but what if instead you just spent more on the things that work for you and less on those that don’t ?
3. Evolution loves small experiments.
It seems to be the preferred way to get out of sticky or overly competitive situations and seems to beat both luck and intelligent design. One small variation might just be all that is needed to go from underdog to top species in a relative small time frame.
Size and effort that goes into the experiment is important though, if you are going all out or it leaves you exhausted, that’s not it, you also need to keep track of your experiments and make sure they don’t harm you.
How often should one experiment ? Evolutions effective rate is hard to gauge, but let's say effective evolutionary change happens every 1 Million years (being conservative), if you take into account the roughly 9 million species currently on planet earth and scale the number to an average human lifespan of say 60-80 years, you should be trying something new and small every day and a half if you want to keep up with evolution.
4.Good generalist beats perfect specialist.
The environment is just too much of a changing place and competition never ceases, having one trick and becoming perfect at it works great, that is until external factors change and then you are out of business or worse, extinct.
On the personal realm you can also become overly attached to someone or rely heavily on some personal routine or behavior, nothing wrong with indulging in what you like, but do keep an eye out and make time to explore other things, you never know, that thing you like now might not fulfill you in a few years.
As for quality, while perfection is something we are told we need to strive for, it shouldn’t come at the cost of the whole project,your life or business, getting there is what matters. Once more, check your resources and the time invested, leave good enough alone.
5.Evolution is messy.
And by messy here I am talking about unintentionally messy and mostly due to the cumulative process of adding features and dropping others while being caught in the middle of this process in a changing environment, messy is usually not filthy or unorganized.
This type of messy is hard to properly define, but can lovely be summarized as:
If it looks stupid but it works it ain’t stupid !
6.Evolution has a clear goal and singular focus.
We humans are blessed ( cursed? ) with a mind that can easily be distracted or entertained by multiple goals or objectives, but evolution has a singular goal of maintaining life in this planet, sure ,within that goal there is ample liberty to experiment and be creative, but by and large it sticks to it and a lot of unexpected things come out of that singular focus, things like beauty, intelligence and complex things like ourselves.
This might seem obvious, but you stand a better chance of realizing any one project or goal if you clearly define it and focus on it to the best of your abilities.
7. Evolution never gives up.
What’s the worst thing that has happened to you ? How much have you lost ?
At some point millions of species thrived in this planet, and one bad day 99% of them were wiped out in a matter of minutes, evolution literally lost everything that day in a fire and had to start from nearly zero, a few million years later here we are and that incident is but a small scar in the planets life.
For the best/scariest tale of total loss I highly recommend Radio Labs Dynopocalypse
I hope you never give up, and thanks for reading,
About the Author: Born Eugenio Noyola Leon (Keno) I am a A.I. resercher, Designer, Software Developer & Artist currently living in Mexico City, you can find me at www.k3no.com