Thursday, October 29, 2009

Punctuated equilibrium and freelancer evolution

In another life, equipped with better math skills, I would have been a scientist. Then again, it doesn't stop me from enjoying science any more than my marginal skating talents prevent me from rooting for the Boston Bruins.

One of the scientific theories that has always stuck in my head is punctuated equilibrium, popularized by evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould in the early 1970s. At the risk of oversimplifying, the concept is that evolution occurs in bursts of rapid change and periods of stability rather than as small changes on a smooth curve.

You can probably see where I'm going here: Punctuated equilibrium is a pretty keen metaphor for our individual lives in general, and for our careers in particular.

Looking at the graph, you need to consider two types of punctuation event: 1) being acted upon by an outside force or 2) choosing to do something different. For me, examples of the former would include having a client go bankrupt or, more pleasantly, having my phone ring unexpectedly with a prospect for a multi-thousand-dollar project. Examples of the former include teaching myself html during the early days of the Web or doing a marketing blitz to announce a new service line.

On a deeper level, such events are inextricably tied--you make choices that subject you to outside forces, and outside forces require you to make choices. But I would argue that, unlike the dinosaurs who had no idea when a meteor was going to hit or a volcano was going to blow, as human beings we have the ability to read, react and adapt to our circumstances.

Over the next few days, consider where you are in the chart. Are you on a flat spot, cruising contentedly...but maybe a bit bored? Are you on a steep upramp, hanging on for dear life...but thrilled at the challenge? Like it or not, you're evolving.


  1. The flat spot. I knew there was an explanation for my current state of business affairs.

  2. We do adapt to our circumstances, but for some reason, I can't always force things to happen. "The universe unfolds as it should" sort of thing. The harder I push, the more resistance I get. Things around our little shop always happen in a rush, then there's a calm. For the life of me, I can't seem to make it be different...and we have evolved to handle it.

  3. Anon, I hear ya.

    adchick, I hear you, too. Maybe not a matter of forcing...but putting yourself in a position to capitalize on good things, which it sounds like you do.

    And, as a friend of mine commented elsewhere: Looking at the headlines, just count your blessings when you can keep your graph flat or trending up, because right now, a lot of people are pointing straight down.