10/29/2009 03:12 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

On Bread Molds and Breakthroughs


Among bread molds, Neurospora is a virtual citadel.

Neurospora crassa is a species of bread mold that is so averse to variation that whenever a large segment of DNA gets duplicated-a critical step in genetic evolution-it bombards the copy with what are known as "point mutations" that effectively turn the genetic code into nonsense.

To be sure, the process works. Neurospora has relentlessly protected itself from variation. But hundreds of millions of years have gone by, and Neurospora is still, after all, only a bread mold. As biologist Olivia Judson delicately puts it, "Its use of mutations to defend its genome from variation may have inadvertently blocked off some evolutionary paths."

At first glance, we humans would seem to be the opposite of this variation averse type - the ones built for innovation and entrepreneurship in our lives. But there's an older, survival-driven part of the brain that fights like hell to defend the status quo. We court alternative paths in our imagination, but like the Neurospora, we run from them in our daily lives.

Those of us who successfully shield ourselves from the twists and turns of life, from the "roads not taken," ultimately face the greater risk of bunking up with the Neurospora - inhabiting the same kind of eternal biological status quo. If you are a frequent reader of my blog, odds are strong that's not what you want for your work or your life.

Variation in life direction is not an obstacle to steadfastly avoid - it is a key to unlocking your breakthrough future. Winning requires embracing the alternatives that life randomly presents to us in order to find your own unique place from which to view the world, your own definition of success, your own rules of happiness.

Mediocrity thrives on the status-quo. Winning requires variance.

Are you open to new life directions, or do you resist them?

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