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VOL. 37 | NO. 24 | Friday, June 14, 2013
Speculating about the modern workplace
Anthropology is the study of humankind. Among other things, anthropologists try to figure out how groups of people have worked together throughout history in ways to increase the odds the group will survive and prosper.
So, these folks go around digging up bones, artifacts and finding whatever they can to increase their understanding of how people lived and interacted with each other throughout history. By the way, no reasonably competent anthropologist would eat an entire box of chicken without being fully aware of the existence, or non-existence, of bones. You probably won’t see many anthropologists on those seemingly never-ending chicken dinner TV commercials.
Anyhow, I have been looking into such matters in preparation for a course I am developing and I have come to the conclusion that as business professionals, we might need to pay attention to things anthropologists have discovered.
Anthropologists believe humankind began 200,000 years ago. That is thought of as the point in time anatomically modern humans emerged from whatever they were before. In other words, the development of their physical bodies, including brain and nervous system, was far enough along at that point to classify them as Homo sapiens, or modern humans.
Researchers also know humans lived solely as hunter-gatherers for about 190,000 years. Then about 10,000 years ago farming/agriculture was invented in the Fertile Crescent and life for humans would never be the same. Do the math. That means for 95 percent of humankind we lived a certain way – and then the apple cart was upset and many of us started living a different way. Our basic design and mental programming hasn’t changed much in 200,000 years, but our way of life has been radically altered for the last 5 percent of our existence.
Anthropologists discovered the core social values for hunter-gatherer groups were: personal freedom, sharing and equality. The emergence of farming upset these long-standing core values by fostering longer working hours, private property ownership, the need to protect property, class differences, greed, status consciousness, competition and so forth and so on.
And then farmers needed equipment, furniture and similar things that kicked off the Industrial Revolution about 250 years ago. It, in turn, kicked off an era of harsh working conditions and an increased need for total obedience among the workers in an organization.
Granted, many good things came from farming and the Industrial Revolution. However, these events created a huge mismatch between our long-standing mental and physical design and our environment.
In America, it appears that the pendulum is starting to swing back in the other direction away from command-and-control leadership to leadership principles based on core values similar to hunter-gatherer groups. For example, take a look at Zappos’ cultural values, and then take a look at their results. Admittedly, it is a bit of stretch to connect hunter-gatherer tribes to the tribe we currently call Zappos. Or is it?
Chris Crouch is CEO of DME Training and Consulting and author of several books on improving productivity. Contact him through www.dmetraining.com.