Darwin’s Theory Adjusted – History Occurs in Fits and Bursts and so Should Your Success


In 1859 Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, presenting a new theory of evolution suggesting that “the diversity of life arose by common descent through a branching pattern of evolution” over thousands of years.

As can be surmised, religious institutions were vehemently opposed to the idea that advanced species evolved from lesser ones. After all, it contradicted the whole idea that our world was created in seven days by God. It also suggested an organic commonality with lesser species that undermined the idea that man was at the apex of that order, as ordained by God. Most preposterously, it suggested that the whole process could have occurred without the hand of God being involved. This was blasphemy!

After Darwin, there was a long period of debate over the validity of the work. Even the scientific community joined the debate because another side-effect of the idea that God was not involved was an undermining of the social order of the time. If God was not involved in the process of evolution, then he could also not be involved in the current state of the world with the White Anglo-Saxon man at the apex of it. Abolitionists would soon have additional fodder to challenge the entire Western mercantillist system of trade.

As a result, the theory of evolution that Darwin had proposed stalled a bit. The theory, when first introduced had been revolutionary, a watershed moment for the entire community of paleontologists, naturalists, biologists and historians whose work was inseparably touched by the new findings. It would now have to take time for the theory to gain wider acceptance, time for people to come to terms with it, a necessary shaking out of sorts for all the pieces to fall into place.

Unfortunately, not all the pieces did.

Over time, the theory started to develop holes, huges ones, in the fossil record. Despite a renewed zeal to dig up fossils all around the world after Darwin’s book, there were huge periods of prehistoric time where no gradual evolutionary progression occurred. Faithful scientists who supported Darwin’s theory hypothesized that those fossils simply had not yet been discovered. Yet even this idea became more and more tenuous as so few fossils were discovered that supported the theory. Could Darwin’s theory have been inaccurate? Could these holes be evidence of God’s work?

Not until over a century later, in 1972, paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Gould suggested that evolutionary change occurs in fits and bursts, and that between these fits and bursts there is a long period of stasis where little change occurs. This would then account for the lack of fossil evidence of change. They published a revolutionary paper on this called Punctuated Equilibria.

This work, and the research that followed presented a revolutionary new theory, one that brought entirely new life to Darwin’s evolutionary theory. Once again, this was followed by a long period of discussion, debate, and settling in for the scientific community.

While Eldridge and Gould’s theory is considerably complex and my telling of it here is very much over-simplified, it is still the prevailing theory of how evolutionary change occurs. As such we could say we are in a period of stasis in the story of evolution. What I’ve done is used their theory as an illustration of how theories can also develop over time. Just as evolution occurred in fits and bursts, so too can a theory.

What I would contend is that more often than not, change all around us is in fits and bursts. I believe that there are many examples in history for this as well. Likewise this is also how change occurs in business and how it will likely occur in your own business, entrepreneurship or side-Gig.

This is how multi-millionaire Gary Vaynerchuk’s business grew. Few people know that he started selling flowers on weekends, a small home-business that he grew to several stands. Then he came across something more profitable, baseball cards, and his income grew to thousands a week. Then his father made him work in the family ice-cream business and things slowed down again. After some time learning from his work there he started strategizing about how he could replicate the success he had with baseball cards. Then he set up a wine club website online and profits reached a new plateau. Once he established the site and created a good following he started to research SEO and other online marketing strategies, bringing another rise in income level. Then he branched off in new directions and reached even higher plateaus. Throughout it all, change occurred in bursts, but he was prepared to capitalize on every one.

The story of Jesse Cole is another example of this process. Having sunk both his and his new wife’s entire life savings into purchasing a baseball franchise, sleeping on an air-mattress in a roach-infested one-room apartment the path to becoming a multi-millionaire has been through fits and bursts. Reading about his challenges shows how the expectation of sudden changes and then acting on them, is what creates forward momentum. The Jesse, the periods of stasis in between are a necessary processes in the overall trajectory because they provide time to learn, to settle in and prepare for the next new burst.

Reading the stories other successful entrepreneurs is not very different, even ones who have not yet reached household name status like Gary and Jesse. Personal finance blogger Michele Gardner certainly started a blog with a simple goal to pay off her student loan. Linked In Personality Shay Rowbottom, COO of Margle Media shares her ups & downs online regularly, but her positive outlook is rooted in the idea that her success is not linear. YouTube sensation Marques Brownlee has seen his success grow in bursts and then recede at various times, only to be raised again with the next groundbreaking review or teak to his SEO strategy. Public speaker and cancer research advocate Jess Ekstrom is now a sought after speaker with TED experience under her belt, but her success was not linear either. The fact is, success most often occurs in bursts. Understanding this is a large part of what made these entrepreneurs so successful.

Yes, there are professional and business progressions that are slow and linear, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Change in bursts is how evolution likely occurred, it is how theories gain wide acceptance, and it will likely be how your business will grow over time. Actually, it may be the single most important factor in moving the process forward. Even if you are currently in a slow period, a stasis, you should always be prepared for the next burst so that you can act on it when it appears..

This blog post was previously published in The Gigster 'Zine, our free newsletter discussing new and innovative part-time opportunities & strategies for anyone with a college degree. To sign up for the newsletter, click here.

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