Is it time to turn your back on the herd? My personal dream in conservation and how the Solitary Ecologist got its name.

Picture 205A comment on my post about getting your dream job in conservation pointed out the importance of sharing your dreams and ambitions with like-minded people. I found this simple suggestion incredibly profound. In addition to this, since this blog has been active, I have been asked about its name – The Solitary Ecologist – by multiple people. It turns out that the name of the site is linked to my career dream and this post will explain how.

Those of you who have met me before might assume that The Solitary Ecologist is a reflection of my very introverted personality. While this might be an appropriate assumption, it wasn’t why I chose the name. You see, my dream is to be a self-reliant conservation biologist; an ecological entrepreneur, if you prefer. The “Independent Ecologist” just doesn’t role off the tongue as smoothly as I had hoped. So, instead, I chose to use solitary in the zoological sense – to demonstrate independence from the herd.

Let’s face it; there are not enough jobs out there for all of us who have an ambition to conserve nature. The donor funding pie is finite and it is silly to expect that we should all get an equal slice. Inevitably, someone will lose out but we should try to ensure that these talented and ambitious people are not lost to the conservation cause. Here is where environmental entrepreneurship can solve a problem.

I think conservation biologists should be paid for the value they create. Furthermore, the perception that conservation is a passion-driven pursuit upsets me (and I am not alone in thinking this way). It is not unethical to be paid for doing something, even when you have a moral obligation to do it. Human health and Justice are two of the most moral-based concepts, yet Medical Doctors and Judges are two of the most respected and well-paid professionals on the planet. I doubt that the biodiversity would be in its precarious state if being a conservation biologist was lifted to the level of being a Doctor or a Judge.

I really believe that conservation can be monetised. I am adamant that conservation scientists can get paid for increasing ecological value. The next big wave of the conservation movement will be ecological entrepreneurship; I want to surf that wave. Don’t believe me? My next post will be a massive monograph on unconventional funding models that are currently in action. We shouldn’t just accept the current state of conservation and we should be eager to improve it wherever possible (and to hammer home this point, I’ve added a Steve Jobs’ video even though it is a blogging cliché).

I don’t think that the current conservation system should necessarily be reformed. I also don’t think that ecological entrepreneurship can replace the traditional non-profit system. Nevertheless, I am confident that a new breed of opportunistic conservation biologists might be better suited for a start-up culture than they are for fitting into large, established organisations. These people can do work that is different enough to avoid competition yet sufficiently similar in overall objectives to be complementary to traditional conservation. Maybe you agree with me? Maybe I am chasing my own tail?

Try this following test developed by Daniel Isenberg. If you answer YES to 17 or more of these questions, then you should consider (ecological) entrepreneurship as a viable career choice.

  1. I don’t like being told what to do by people who are less capable than I am.
  2. I like challenging myself.
  3. I like to win.
  4. I like being my own boss.
  5. I always look for new and better ways to do things.
  6. I like to question conventional wisdom.
  7. I like to get people together in order to get things done.
  8. People get excited by my ideas.
  9. I am rarely satisfied or complacent.
  10. I can’t sit still.
  11. I can usually work my way out of a difficult situation.
  12. I would rather fail at my own thing than succeed at someone else’s.
  13. Whenever there is a problem, I am ready to jump right in.
  14. I think old dogs can learn — even invent — new tricks.
  15. Members of my family run their own businesses.
  16. I have friends who run their own businesses.
  17. I worked after school and during vacations when I was growing up.
  18. I get an adrenaline rush from selling things. [MY EDIT: You could be selling ideas, skills or even conservation value]
  19. I am exhilarated by achieving results.
  20. I could have written a better test than Isenberg (and here is what I would change ….)

6 thoughts on “Is it time to turn your back on the herd? My personal dream in conservation and how the Solitary Ecologist got its name.

  1. I like it Falko, both your article and the list.

    I guess the essential problem is getting people with potentially very different ideas on how to proceed on any given issue, to agree enough to move forward with one of them.

    Also really liked your post on the influence of the cult of personality and your self-recognition on the matter. Most of us are +/- susceptible to this I think.

    • Thanks for the comments, Jim (but I can’t take credit for the list).

      I’m not going to burn any bridges or alienate anyone by criticising the status quo, but I do get annoyed whenever I (as a young ecologist) get told (explicitly or implicitly) that to succeed I should conform the the way things are. However, I don’t completely agree with your comment that the problem is getting people with different ideas to pull in the same direction. The problem is giving people with innovative ideas the option to pull in their own direction.

      Entrepreneurs don’t change things by altering the status quo; they create a new, different status quo. A start-up tech company, for example, won’t try to change Microsoft. I can’t change the current funding structures or publication systems – and I don’t think it is even worth trying. I am not going to convince others to abandon an old system, especially when they were the ones who design, understand and benefit from said system. But I do think that being a good ecologist is independent of getting grants and publishing in high impact journals.

      I hope that ecological entrepreneurship will allow talented and ambitious ecologists/conservation biologists to do good work despite being on the outside of the traditional way of doing things. A first step is creating a sub-culture that values the quality of the work beyond the traditional benchmarks of the old (broken?) system. To be honest, I don’t really know how this can be done but, hopefully, this blog will be a place to tease out some ideas.

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