Charles Darwin on Your Career By Pepper de Callier

Years ago I remember reading an interview in which Peter Drucker, a man considered by many to be the management guru of the 20th century, was discussing his views on career development.  His thesis was absolutely counter to everything I had been taught and I found it unsettling.  What he had said was that, based upon his research and experience, fulfilling and rewarding careers were rarely planned—they evolved.  Evolved!  “How ridiculous!”, I thought.  I had been paying good money to buy books and to attend seminars to learn different ways of planning a successful career and Drucker comes up with this? 

It wasn’t until later in my life and after experiencing some “evolution” of my own, that I realized the wisdom of what he had said.  Let’s step back a moment and look up the word evolution.  The web-based defines evolution as: “A gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form.”  Okay, I can understand that, but what has that got to do with my career? 

That’s where this quote from Charles Darwin, a name synonymous with the word evolution, brings it all together: “It is not the strongest of a species who survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change”   When you think about it for a moment, the progression of your life and of your career are literally examples of an evolution.  It’s not the biological type of evolution that I want to focus on, it’s the evolution of the collective “biology”—you as a person and a professional, that I want to talk about.  Darwin’s thoughts on evolution and natural selection, made in the 19th century, were strangely prophetic as career development advice and management theory for the 21st century.  Let me explain.

Recent history has pulled the shroud over the cold war model of management: the top-down, militaristic, hierarchical, and highly bureaucratic, but very “strong” style of managing people and businesses.  Why?  Because it could not adapt itself well to respond to the decentralized, multi-cultural model of global expansion and the fact that many people in all levels of the organization now had access to the same information.  Being intelligent was no guarantee of survival, either. Even at the height of the venture capital funding frenzy the pay-off was one in six: for every six companies funded, only one would survive and that was after a room full of smart people decided that the start-up they were funding was full of very smart people.  Why?  Many reasons, but chief among them is the fact that the product or service was not relevant to the marketplace.  You’d think with all those smart people involved in the deals that someone would have seen that coming.

Which brings me back to you and your career: How adaptable and relevant are you to the future of your company, your aspirations, the global marketplace, or Central Europe as it continues its economic change and growth? 

Consider this observation offered recently in Fast Company by Avram Miller, Co-Founder of Intel Capital, one of the world’s largest corporate venture programs: “The cornerstone for this millennium is the end of time and space.  Most organizations today are run the same way as early 20th Century businesses.  Everyone goes to his car, drives to work, has certain hours, has a certain job.  It’s all built on the factory model.  Moving forward, it really isn’t going to be important where you are in order to do your job.  Ideas are being worked on 24 hours a day.”

But, it goes further than that as far as your future is concerned.  It’s about embracing change, not resisting it—embracing it to uncover new opportunities and to develop newly needed skills in a rapidly changing globalized economy.   It’s allowing yourself to be pulled into the vortex of change and using it versus fighting it.  Look, none of us really likes change.  It makes us uncomfortable.  We aren’t sure what to expect.  But, change is inevitable, especially in a globalizing economy.  So, what I’m saying is this: it’s much better to be an active part of whatever the change is rather than be a victim of it. 

Unlike the hapless, clumsy Dodo bird, which never gained the ability to fly, we can actually choose to evolve when it comes to our careers. 

What are you doing to evolve your career and your life?

Good luck on your way up!

About the Author: Pepper de Callier is one of the most respected senior executive coaches and authorities on leadership in Europe. Learn more about him at

*These are reprints from Pepper de Callier‘s newspaper column in Hospodarske noviny.

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