Brave May - Equality, Diversity, Innovation

Oxford image
Oxford image

We all have a lot to learn from early hunter-gatherers.

A study, published in Science in May, indicates that “increased sex egalitarianism in human evolutionary history may have had a transformative effect on human social organization.

Diverse inputs, innovative outputs

Interestingly, at least for us, it seems that human evolutionary advantage – our superior ability to innovate – was generated by the wider social sharing enabled by the range of interactions within diverse communities.

And it was down to female influence that communities took this shape, and interacted this way.

So, at risk of sounding flippant, we did better than chimps because our communities were set up to permit more social interaction between more, different people.

More interaction between more, different people produced more innovation. It made the innovation stick. Human communities progressed faster.

Corporate innovation chimp?

Don’t be an innovation chimp.

What’s one of those? Well, if we look at the study, that would be a social system which restricts the generation and discussion of ideas to a narrow, non-diverse (male) group.

Chimpanzees live in quite aggressive, male-dominated societies with clear hierarchies. As a result, they just don’t see enough adults in their lifetime for technologies to be sustained.” (author, Mark Dyble, commenting on the study)

Let’s be honest, many corporates work on a variety of this kind of structure. Many agencies do too. Go out, gather some information, keep discussions of it close, issue response/campaign/product, repeat cycle…

The result, in the dog-eat-dog commercial world is that your social group falls behind and, in the worst case, does not survive. That’s the lesson from the history of human development. Let’s not ignore it.

Yes, you can

At this point people – at least some people we’ve talked to – throw their hands up in despair, thinking this is an argument for anarchic decision-making processes and non-proprietary attitudes to information and ideas.

Not necessarily. Again, we can learn from early hunter-gatherers. Oxford University Behavioural Scientist, Dr Tamas David-Barrett comments on the study:

This is a very neat result. If you’re able to track your kin further away, you’d be able to have a much broader network. All you’d need to do is get together every now and then for some kind of feast.

So, throw your network wide, keep it diverse and bring the full range of people together for feasts every so often.

We can easily imagine corporate equivalents for this kind of social system. They’re not going to look the same for every team or company, but chances are there’s a way that could work for even the most chimp-like organisation.

We’d invite you to stop and think whether you’re on the right commercial-evolutionary track. Honestly.

Do you need to be less chimp?