The Chicken and the Egg, Part 1

In his podcast, Akimbo, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

Through the mechanics of genetic inheritance and evolution of species, Seth explains how ideas and culture work in a very similar way.

For genes and species:

  • Two creatures get together and create a third creature. Another word, two sets of genes combined to create a third set. The baby creature is not the replica of either parent but inherits, randomly, many of the traits that the parents carry.
  • The traits that help a creature survive the environment get passed on to the offspring. The traits that did not help the species survive long enough to produce offspring die off eventually because the new environment isn’t hospitable to those baby creatures.
  • Over time, the randomized changes in trait add up. The species and the traits they carry either evolve successfully in surviving the environment, or they die off and become extinct.
  • Given enough time and trait changes, species can also evolve away from one branch to form an entirely different branch.
  • Often, we may say a species has adapted and survived. That sounds like a planned move on the species part, but that is not the case. The species were not responding to the outside world, as Mother Nature operates on her terms and timelines. The outside world determines whether those traits get passed on, and the species have little say in the evolution process.

looking at our culture through the eyes of genetics and evolution

  • Ideas are like genes. They are often inherited from other ideas but with some mutation.
  • Some ideas spread and some do not – nothing is guaranteed. When a culture adapts an idea, ideas that help the culture to sustain or prosper stand a much better chance to survive.
  • Ideas that are part of a dying or extinct culture eventually die off along with the culture.
  • The world keeps changing as ideas spread and cultures adapt or do not adapt
  • Changes in ideas and cultures can add up. Given enough time, a culture will spread and even evolve away from its original set of ideas and beliefs.

Along the way, the myth developed that one solid, well-formed idea born out of nowhere is how great ideas appear. “Oh yeah, a genius thought that one up.” But that is not actually what happens.

As a human society, we have built an incredibly fertile ground for ideas to replicate and to spread. Ideas continue to change the culture and may end up making themselves extinct. Along the way, ideas can replicate, mutate, and became something completely unrecognizable to the person who originally put the idea into the world. That is what our culture is, the sum-total of all the ideas we have intercepted and spread to others.