If You Want Innovation, Promote Like This

A secret ingredient has been newly revealed by researchers that will help you achieve a culture of innovation.

Anthropologists studied two hunter-gatherer populations.  Both numbered about 20, moved about every ten days and lived on the hunted game, fish and gathered fruit, vegetables, and honey. The difference between the two populations was the degree of equality.

You might think of hunter-gatherers as macho men pulling their women around by their hair.  Instead, researchers at the University of Oxford have found that equality is the norm in contemporary tribes.  Men and women have equal influence on the membership of their community and where they live.

In tribes where men dominated, they lived within close range of kin.  When equality reigned, populations were more diverse, and networks extended farther.

The Effects of Equal Influence

A diverse and far-reaching population would have been advantageous for progress.  The researchers argued that wider-ranging social networks would have led to the sharing of more innovations, better choice of mates and closer cooperation between unrelated individuals.

In business environments, a farther network translates into similar advantages for spreading innovation, and in being innovative.  More ideas get circulated, more problems shared, and more solutions generated.

But we don’t have equal environments in business.

The Dawn of Accumulation

As humans realized it is much easier to hunt when you can make the herd come to you, we started farming.  The researchers argue inequality only emerged with agriculture and the ability to accumulate resources.

In this agricultural age, it became advantageous to have close kin as neighbors.  Hearing about the novel invention on the other coast wasn’t as helpful as your brother and his five kids across the street.  Even better assistance would be if those kids were all strong boys.

With the dawn of the agricultural age, the advantages offered by equality no longer outmatched the advantages of male domination.  Being able to stay in one place lead to the ability to accumulate.  When men can take more than one wife, they can simply accumulate faster than women.  It starts to pay off to form alliances with male kin and accumulate together.

The advantage of proximity carried over into early manufacturing when people were akin to machines.  Henry Ford was known to have lamented, “Why is it every time I ask for a pair of hands they come with a brain attached?”

Teams that Think

With the age of knowledge work, we started to hire for brains, but the legacy of manufacturing remains.  It’s a constant struggle for equal influence in the boardroom.

To produce “thinking teams” instead of “doing teams,” hunter-gatherer tribes might hold the key.

As we then moved into the manufacturing age, teams, and their larger version, organizations, became mini-replicas of the agricultural community design.  It’s what was standard culture.

Capitalism and male domination seems to go hand in hand with its goal to survive beyond everyone else.  With nuclear power, survival of the strongest will lead to annellation.

Now, we say we want equality, but we suffer from male domination.  The challenge isn’t determining the vision; it’s determining how to get there.

Getting to Innovative Cultures

Sheryl Sandberg has asked businesswomen to Lean In and to take their seat at the table.  If you’re the first woman to sit at that table, take two peers with you.  One is an anomaly, two is abnormal, but three starts a trend.

For anyone who takes their seat at the table, the way to get there is to be present.  Be smarter than the rest by conquering your cognitive biases.  Instead of accumulation, you have an enlightened worldview and bigger goals.

Love is the killer app, says Tim Sanders.  Jack Ma, the billionaire owner of Alibaba, says it’s all about love.  He says you have to genuinely love your team and what you’re working towards together.  It gives you that larger purpose for when things get hard.

The organizational design best suited for today’s challenges is one which offers equality and diversity.  When you promote people, send them far and wide.  Transferable skills take you not just to the next rung on the ladder, but a new ladder altogether.

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