The key thing about evolution is that everything dies. Ninety-nine percent of species are already extinct; the rest will be eventually.
There is no perfect species, one adapted to everything at all times. The best any species can do is to be good at some things until the things it’s not good at suddenly matter more. And then it dies.
A century ago a Russian biologist named Ivan Schmalhausen described how this works. A species that evolves to become very good at one thing tends to become vulnerable at another.
A bigger lion can kill more prey, but it’s also a larger target for hunters to shoot at. A taller tree captures more sunlight but becomes vulnerable to wind damage. There is always some inefficiency.
So species rarely evolve to become perfect at anything, because perfecting one skill comes at the expense of another skill that will eventually be critical to survival. The lion could be bigger; the tree could be taller. But they’re not, because it would backfire.
So they’re all a little imperfect.
Nature’s answer is a lot of good enough, below-potential traits across all species. Biologist Anthony Bradshaw says that evolution’s successes get all the attention, but its failures are equally important.
And that’s how it should be: Not maximizing your potential is actually the sweet spot in a world where perfecting one skill compromises another.
Evolution has spent 3.5 billion years testing and proving the idea that some inefficiency is good. We know it’s right.
So maybe the rest of us should pay more attention to it.
So many people strive for efficient lives, where no hour is wasted. But an overlooked skill that doesn’t get enough attention is the idea that wasting time can be a great thing.
Psychologist Amos Tversky once said
“the secret to doing good research is always to be a little underemployed. You waste years by not being able to waste hours.”
A successful person purposely leaving gaps of free time on their schedule to do nothing in particular can feel inefficient. And it is, so not many people do it.
But Tversky’s point is that if your job is to be creative and think through a tough problem, then time spent wandering around a park or aimlessly lounging on a couch might be your most valuable hours.
A little inefficiency is wonderful.
Photo credit: Link Hoang on Unsplash