Try many things and keep what works

Charles Darwin was a British naturalist who developed a theory of evolution based on genetic mutation and natural selection. Charles Darwin’s great insight was that species evolve through random genetic mutation. Through genetic variations, the traits which are best suited to the environment are naturally selected and tend to survive in subsequent generations. In other words it is survival for the fittest.

This idea of evolution and natural selection can be applied to make us richer. We can’t know in advance which career or business venture will make us rich. The only way to find out is to try many things and keep those that work. This principle is well illustrated in Jim Collins “Built to last.”

“Take the example of Johnson  &  Johnson, one of the Visionary companies studied in the book. In  1890,  Johnson  &  Johnson—then  primarily  a  supplier  of antiseptic  gauze  and  medical  plasters—received  a  letter  from  a physician  who  complained  about  patient  skin  irritation  from certain  medicated  plasters.  Fred  Kilmer,  the  company’s  director  of research,  quickly  responded  by  sending  a  packet  of  soothing  Italian talc  to  apply  on  the  skin.  He  then  convinced  the  company  to include  a  small  can  of  talc  as  part  of  the  standard  package  with certain  products.  To  the  company’s  surprise,  customers  soon  began asking  to  buy  more  of  the  talc  directly.  J&J  responded  by  creating  a separate  product  called  “Johnson’s  Toilet  and  Baby  Powder,”  which became  a  famous  household  staple  around  much  of  the  world. According  to  J&J’s  own  official  history,  “the  Johnsons  got  into  the baby  powder  business  quite  by  accident.” Even  more  significant, the  company  thereby  took  a  tiny  incremental  step  that  eventually mushroomed  into  a  significant  strategic  shift  into  consumer products—an  “accident”  which  eventually  grew  to  become  44 percent  of  J&J’s  revenues—and  as  important  to  its  growth  as medical  supplies  and  pharmaceutical  products.

Later,  J&J  stumbled  upon  another  famous  product  by  accident.  In 1920,  a company  employee, Earle  Dickson,  created  a  ready-to-use bandage—made  of  surgical  tape  with  small  pieces  of  gauze  and  a special  covering  so  it  would  not  stick  to  the  skin—for  his  wife  who had  a  knack  for  cutting  herself  with  kitchen  knives.  When  he mentioned  his  invention  to  the  marketing  people,  they  decided  to experiment  with  the  product  on  the  market.  Eventually,  after  a  slow start  and  a  never-ending  process  of  tinkering,  Band-Aid  products became  the  biggest  selling  category  in  the  company’s  history  and further  solidified  J&J’s  “accidental”  strategic  move  into  consumer products.”

So we can see that the way to wealth is a series of experiments aimed at trying to figure out what works. Only then do we keep what works and proceed to accumulate a lot of wealth. Like Darwin said, “multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die.”

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