Survival of the Fittest: Creative Evolution Through Skill and Discipline

By Katherine Robertson-Pilling - the fourth in the series of how to live the creative life.


I’m about to publish my book. Everywhere I look now I see people writing and publishing books. What makes one book stand out from the rest? What enables a creative work to survive when all the others fall by the wayside? It’s a crucial question for anyone seeking a creative life. So, when I sat down to write this post, I thought of the man who wrote the book on evolution, Charles Darwin.

Originality Endures

Charles Darwin’s earthshaking book, On the Origin of Species, was first published in 1859. I suppose many would not equate the name Darwin with creativity, yet for 153 years, this book has been recognized as the foundation of evolutionary biology. I’d call that an original and enduring idea!

Darwin’s Creative Cycles

Darwin’s scientific fact-finding speaks for itself (I’m paraphrasing very loosely):

·      Everything is naturally fertile.

·      Species compete for limited resources.

·      Individuals are original.

·      Diversity has value.

But for me it is Darwin’s life that teaches us most about our evolution as a creative species in a competitive world. Darwin clearly had big ideas, but how did he develop his skill to make those ideas grow? And what kind of discipline enabled him to stay with the process?

Darwin had four key characteristics that enabled him to produce work with such lasting relevance:

  1. Passion. Darwin was passionate about science the way we are passionate about the creative process. It wasn’t the pursuit of fame that drove him, but his passion. Passion pointed him to his experiences, shaped his life and validated his vision. In the midst of a sea of conformity around you, what calls you from the horizon? Your personal passion will lead you to your original ideas.
  2. Curiosity. Darwin was relentless in observing life around him. He explored the world with an obsession to understand it. He was open to discovering what he did not know, so he saw things others did not see. What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed in the morning? Cultivate your natural curiosities, and life will always interest you.
  3. Imagination. What Darwin saw became the building blocks for his theories through his imagination. He was compelled to come up with ways to explain his observations, and from previously unanswerable questions, new ideas were born. What unanswerable questions compel you? Don’t be afraid to imagine new possibilities what you do not know.
  4. Courage. It was 20 years from the time Darwin formed his basic idea until his book was published. Perhaps because he knew it would contradict the status quo, he took his time. In the end, his work redefined the frontiers of accepted knowledge and changed science forever. What rises up in you in contradiction to “the way things are?” Have the courage to listen.

Grounding Your Ideas with Skill and Discipline

Creativity is a way of life. Whatever keeps us all here is still flowing as strong and wild as it ever was. Your ideas are the seeds sown on the banks of the river, if you’re looking for them. Charles Darwin was looking, and reminds us that the process itself will develop your skill, if you honor your passion, follow your curiosity, use your imagination and act with courage. And while some days are easier than others, the discipline of doing the work day after day because you love it is the surest way to create a life you’ll love forever.


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