Tag Archives: prediction

Specialization Is For Insects

“I say the last 10 percent of the way to perfection takes so much of your life that it isn’t worth the effort. This overzealous attitude is what creates religious fanatics, body Nazis, and athletes who’re exceedingly dull to converse with.” So said Yvon Chouinard, and I agree. Perfection is sort of another way of saying specialization.

Some real problems can arise with specialization; it can become more difficult to adapt to change, especially big, sudden changes. Predicting these kind of changes is a not very reliable endeavor because we don’t know what we don’t know. It’s impossible to factor in unforseen events. Just think of the recent BP oil spill or hurricane Katrina, no one had thought they’d happen.

In the “The Black Swan,” author, Nassim Taleb, asks his readers to: “Consider the following sobering statistic. Of the 500 largest U.S. companies in 1957, only 74 were still part of ¬†that select group, the Standard and Poor’s 500, 40 years later.¬†Only a few had disappeared in mergers: the rest either sank or went bust.” Who would have or could have predicted 426 out of 500 companies would not be around after only 40 years!

If you or your company becomes so specialized that you’re no longer robust and not somewhat nimble, you are actually vulnerable when facing big changes in your surroundings. For example suppose you had a company only able to manufacture cassette tapes – probably a pretty good business not too long ago. But you’d be out of business these days if that was all you could produce.

Sometimes an insect becomes too specialized and adapted to its surroundings and if suddenly there’s a change in its habitat… well too bad for that particular bug; but another insect with different abilities will likely take over the newly vacated spot.

Why are Homo sapiens around but not Neanderthals? Both groups were around at the same time and by all accounts the Neanderthals were worthy specimens. But,were Neanderthals so specialized to living in an ice age that they were unable to adjust to a warming planet and so perished?

It’s probably a good idea to build up your tolerance to uncertainty. Strive to be an adaptable creature instead of an over specialized one.