In today’s fast-paced world, the words we use matter a lot to the associations one makes to them. For instance, when one measures success – the words associated with them typically tend to be smartest, most intelligent, or perhaps the most hardworking. These are the attributes that are taught as a pre-requisite condition for success today, be it at work or while running a business.
After reading Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, in 1864, Herbert Spencer coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” as a shorthand for Darwin’s theory of evolution. The phrase has been the misused mantra of justification for corporate takeovers, wars, genocides, and ruthless struggles for power in the workplace and on the playground. What Spencer meant, James Suzman writes in Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots, those organisms that are best adapted to ‘fit’ into any particular environmental niche will thrive.” More than strength, intelligence, or work ethic—surviving and thriving requires the ability to adapt, to “fit” to your external environment and circumstances.
The Forrest Gump Kid
During the filming of Forrest Gump, director Bob Zemeckis realized he had a problem: The kid cast to play the young Forrest sounded nothing like the way Tom Hanks was portraying the adult Forrest. One day on set, Zemeckis told Hanks, “We got a problem here, you have to teach this kid how to talk the way you talk.” One of the hottest actors in Hollywood, Hanks could have demanded they find another kid or that the kid figure out how to sound like Hanks. Instead, Hanks asked to meet the kid. The kid was from Mississippi and had a thick Southern accent, and after a brief conversation, Hanks said, “I thought, ‘Why don’t I just talk the way he talks?’” The iconic Forrest Gump accent and mannerisms were simply a result of Tom Hanks adapting and fitting to the kid’s speech and mannerisms.
It is this unique trait of Tom Hank, that continues to make him one of the greatest actors.
Many of the best businesses are run by entrepreneurs who have the same attitude towards scale. They succeed because of their ability to adapt and work around the external environment. They are not rigid around the world working for them, but are flexible to adapt to the opportunity without sacrificing on their core vision.
It is these traits that we look out for in the businesses we invest in which typically turn out to be the most durable businesses over time.