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The Evolutionary Ruleset


Explanations > Evolution > The Evolutionary Ruleset

Pattern | Copy | Variation | Competition | Environment | Success | So What?


Neurophysiologist William Calvin has described the basics of evolutionary creativity in a set of ‘The Six Essentials’. He also shows how the principles of human evolution can also be applied to other areas, such as ideas.

1. There is a pattern

In animals and people, this is the DNA patterns, held in the genes. This principle was taken further by Richard Dawkins when he described the ‘meme,’ which is a single idea or thought.

2. The pattern gets copied

With animals, this means reproduction. Your children contain copies of your genes. With ideas (or memes), copying occurs when other people learn of the idea.

3. Variations occur in the patterns

Your children are not exact photocopies of you. They may look similar, but they not only are made up of a combination of their parents’ characteristics, but the genes do experiments along the way, mutating into different forms.

This happens with ideas too. When you tell them to other people, or even recall past thoughts, the received thought may be subtly or somewhat different from the original idea.

4. There is competition

A given area of land will support only a limited number of animals, plants and people. We compete both within our own species and between species for access to those things that are needed to survive and procreate.

Ideas also fight both one another and established concepts for the prize of development and use. Good ideas spread more rapidly as they are told and retold. Ideas which are weak or difficult to understand are given less consideration. When an inventor chews over ways of cooling down a room, established concepts (such as fans) compete with new ideas, for example using thermal materials for heat transfer.

5. There is a complex environment

The environment in which the species live will tend to favour some animals over others. For example, mountainous conditions will help scrubby plants which can survive in rocky outcrops and animals like goats which can get to these plants to eat them.

Different business cultures will also help different types of ideas. In an R&D environment, product ideas will thrive, whilst in a marketing group, new ways of communicating will be given more space for experimentation and trial.

6. Successful variants get varied more

When an animal mutates successfully, evolution seems to pay particular attention to it, performing additional experiments. Perhaps unsurprisingly, humans are the most rapidly evolving species. Out of interest, the second most evolved group are birds: the dominion of the air has given them a huge advantage in reaching food and travelling distances with which other species can not compete.

We can use the same principle in our inventions. If a line of agricultural thought on turning over soil leads to a new form of plough, further exploration along the same line could lead to an even better plough.

So what?

This is a useful pattern for all kinds of development, from leadership selection to designing products. If you are in a system where evolutionary forces are at play, make sure your patterns are the successful ones (or you copy or ally with those which are more successful).

See also

Natural Selection


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