Punctuated Equilibrium and Talent Development

September 10, 2013 by Wally Bock

When I learned Darwin’s Theory of Evolution in school, I came away imagining it as a very gradual process. Evolution, I thought, was one small change after another over a long period of time until all the small, steady changes added up to a big difference.  But that’s only part of the story.

The other part is called “Punctuated Equilibrium” and was laid out first by Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge in 1972. Their theory says that

“species are generally stable, changing little for millions of years. This leisurely pace is ‘punctuated’ by a rapid burst of change.”

That’s how individual humans develop. We make little bits of progress day by day and week by week that add up to a big difference. And we have bursts of incredible growth, followed by periods where development moves along at a more leisurely pace.

If you’re thinking about your own career or if talent development is your business, you should account for both kinds of development. Both are necessary.

Steady growth is for developing skillsets, like leadership, that need time to develop. You make a little progress every day.

Bursts of development come from big, intense challenges from crises and developmental assignments. Some of the learning happens right away, but some won’t happen until you can reflect on what you’ve learned and apply it in different situations.

Individual careers and talent development programs need steady growth and intense growth, with time for reflection to learn from both.

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

Posted in Talent Management

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  1. By The Carnival of HR - Jesse Lyn Stoner on September 25, 2013 at 3:07 am

    […] Punctuated Equilibrium and Talent Development, Wally Bock explains that when looking at career or talent development, it’s important to […]

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