The picture I got from public school about evolutionary processes - and the view that I think most people share - has some big pieces missing. One of these pieces has been spotlighted by a nice married couple who are naturalists/scientists. Meet Amtoz and Avishag Zahavi. They developed the "Handicap Principle" in which animals signal their fitness and indicate the quality of their signals through handicapping themselves.
A classic example is the male peacock's tail. The colorful tail is wasteful and because it hinders movement, it endangers the animal - and it's used to signal male quality to the females. I'll leave you to explore the book for additional examples. The main thing about it for me is how counter-intuitive it is.
Evolutionary processes are usually employed as metaphors for adaptive change - for talking about things getting better. The Handicap Principle is about waste, escallating rounds of potentially zero-sum or negative-sum outcomes - and even of the threat of extinction.
The other reason I find the Handicap Principle compelling is because I see these processes play out in "our" technology labor market and elsewhere. I think a hint of it shows up around some of the discussions that take place about burnout. There are prizes out there to be won. Posts to fill. Statuses to acquire. There's the latest round of tools and technologies to master. They all involve the person taking on a certain extra load - which they may or may not be well-suited for at the time - much like a bird who eats dung takes a load on its immune system of diseases and parasites - in order to extract the yellow compound that makes its feathers pretty.
The point is that we talk about competition and we commonly bring up the notion that we're tempted to do too much. But the Handicap Principle suggests that there's more going on than mere temptation. There's really more of an inter-connectedness about it that is kind of troubling but it's there nonetheless.
The economist Robert Frank covers some of these themes and he says through my paraphrase that we get into these mutually-offsetting, escallating competitive games with other people with little to no coordination and we end up with situations like what we have with the glut of film students. Kick over a rock and a dozen film students scurry out - and there's far too many of them. Only a hand-full will become successful. They're in a very "winner-take-all" market. The rest will have to go learn how to code XHTML.
They're given freedom to choose a career. They wonder what they could do day-in and day-out and stay motivated. They think, "hey - I like watching movies. Great. That's the thing for me. I'll go to film school." The school accepts their money and off they go on the same adventure as thousands of others. They kind of expect something to materialize for all the effort. They run into a coordination problem.
Something similar can be said of going after and keeping a Microsoft MVP status. You might be doing great things, but you're not coordinated with other people who are also free to go after that goal. So maybe you expend tons of effort, you make trade-offs that hinder other areas of your life - and in the end, you were out-done by some other people. Now what?
I jest a little. but mainly, it's the basic awareness that I'm after. What to do with that awareness is still an area that I'm not sure about. And, since I don't really hear many influtential people talking about it, I gather that nobody else really has a good idea on what to do about it or with it either.
One thing to note is that our profession is not exactly like movie-making. Our profession isn't nearly as winner-take-all in nature. That's nice. That makes cooperation easier. However, there are some of these processes going on. If you care about things like sustainability - like setting a pace where people can operate indefinitely and be happy and successful, then this is an area that can't be overlooked.