Avoiding Old Man Darwin

Dobber Sports

2011-01-05

Staal

 

You have to be pretty famous to have accolades named in your honour, and to be the namesake of a (pop) cultural touchstone like the Darwin Awards, well, you’re approaching Brayden-Schenn-at-the 2011-World-Juniors levels of awesomeness.

 

Natural Selection is for the Weak

 

The funny thing about those annoying forwards that your “cool” uncle is so fond of passing on is that they aren’t too far off Charles Darwin’s original thought. Natural selection, often described as “survival of the fittest”, tends to reward useful attributes and penalizes less-useful attributes (like being stupid enough to try this). So cheering for natural selection seems, well, natural.

 

The problem with natural selection is that it relies on luck. While often misunderstood as a system in which the strong and the smart win out over the weak and the stupid, this process actually describes how species will slowly adapt to their local environments through the relative success rates of random (and usually slight) mutations.

 

A nerdy example: if you’re a bird that munches on insects that live in trees and you happened to have a longer beak than your buds (insert giggles), then you’re likely to get more to eat – which puts you at an advantage for passing on your long-beak genes (hello ladies). Let that little scenario run for awhile, and now the bird population likely has longer beaks than before. But what happens if all those bugs die out because the weather patterns changes? Well, so much for that long beak being useful.

 

You all know enough about hockey to come up with your own NHL version of this story (if you’re still scratching your heads google “new NHL, can-opener, Bryan McCabe, useless now”).

 

NHL clubs can’t afford to wait for natural selection; they need to anticipate new trends in the game if they want to win.  They need to aggressively work to stay ahead of the curve on which players are going to be the best, and what tactics are going to work. Likewise, you have to learn how to adapt more quickly than your competitors if you want to win.

 

Learning to Learn

 

Sadly, I don’t get to write about hockey for my day job. Instead, I work for an organization that has competitors and naturally my organization is interested in winning (I’m sure yours is, too). One of the ways that my organization tries to adapt quickly is by aggressively learning from its experiences. Winners don’t take a trial-and-error approach. They chase down information, process it, and then act on it in ways that will make them more competitive, and they do this as quickly as possible (