Brain, Body, & Business

Entering Q4 of a very challenging year, I’ve been asking myself, what would it take to be:
Fit to Thrive in Any Economy?
Is it possible?
In my Business Anthropologist hat, it’s clear that human beings have been finding ways to generate value for each other as the world shifts around us for, oh, at least 150,000 generations*...and probably we’ll find ways to do it too…

That begs the question, how do we go about being effective in the face of – often unwelcome – change? The imperative is urgent, though the combination of skills required are rare.

The lens of Business Anthropology that I find so handy illuminates how commerce and the human brain evolved together. It’s no accident that we sustain Neuroplasticity – so important to innovation - into adulthood. Below is a very rough view over 4 major Ice Ages and countless periods of warming/rising sea levels, no doubt accompanied by earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, not to mention predators, drought…honing groups’ ability to keep each other alive.

Brain
Body
Business

3,200,000 years
160,000 gens
500 cc
Large male 5’
Large female 4’
Fully upright, arched foot
Sloped forehead
Cooperating for protection
Coordinating
Primitive tools
Language?
Africa

1,000,000 years
50,000 gens
1000 cc
Heavy brow ridges
Less sloping forehead
Good cutting edges
Spread throughout Asia, Africa, maybe Europe

25,000 years
1,250  gens
1500 cc
modern
Large male 6’
Large female 5’5”
Fully modern
Trading over thousands of miles
Art
Elegant tools
Herding
Asia, Africa, Australia, and maybe the Americas

Our ancestors’ stressors differed from ours in several important ways. Understanding how our brains tend respond to the challenges of modern commerce allows us to build new neural pathways: becoming more competent to navigate our changing world as individuals, and revealing how to keep our enterprises viable.

Change is a moment of opportunity for those who can keep their brains curious, bodies vital, and enterprises nimble. I’ve developed Fit to Thrive in Any Economy, a new synthesis of brain, body, & business, based on recent insights from Neuroscience, perspectives from Business Anthropology, and practices from the Martial Arts. What are you doing?  What are you seeing that’s working?

This moment in commerce is unprecedented. It’s a call for ingenuity and leadership. Let’s get the job done.

*The newly-published Ardi fossils appear to push that back to at least 210,000 generations.

Social Media and the Brain: A Business Anthropologist's View


A number of innovations have changed the face of commerce in my lifetime.  Credit cards greatly enabled commercial exchanges.  Email and FedEx both sped up communication and reduced cost.  The internet both transformed information transfer, and introduced people around the world who would not have otherwise found each other.  In each case, exchanges – the fundamental unit of commerce – became easier.  Barriers were lowered and trade flourished.  
Are social media another facilitator of trade?
One of the aspects of social media that I find most fascinating is the proliferation of free – non-monetized, and non-negotiated – exchanges.   There’s an ethos around that practice, to which participants are finely-tuned.  It’s OK to make commercial offers, and to be compensated for touting others’ products,  as long as a) you’re up-front about it,  b) it’s deemed appropriate to the specific site and subject , and c) that’s not the only kind of stuff you talk about.  In the recent surge of activity around the Iran election on Twitter, for example, those few who sought to reach participants with anything commercial were immediately and soundly slapped.
There is plenty of commercial activity on social media. Even so, many corporate marketers are not so happy with its power  – the loss of control is counter-cultural for them - while small businesses are faster to use it to advantage .  The explosive growth of Twitter confounded the pundits and sparked controversy for months.  Much of that chatter quieted when the State Department asked Twitter to postpone scheduled maintenance soon after the Iranian election.  
I'm struck by the way social media simulate community.  The earmarks of community are 1) Shared concerns and 2) Free exchanges addressing those concerns, in addition to monetized or quantified trading. In the 17 years I had my office in Napa, CA, the river flooded half a dozen times.   People of all ages jumped in to assist – with whatever equipment and know-how at their command – with no thought of quantifying the exchanges.  And they loved it; stories abounded for years.  The mood of the entire country shifted when a now-famous commercial airline pilot landed in the Hudson in January of this year, and locals leaped into every available craft to get people out of the water.   This month, untold numbers of people from all over the world changed their Twitter profiles to confuse Iranian secret police, and offered proxy sites as internet communication inside the country was disabled.  
I suspect that our forebears lived by means of free exchanging – in ordinary life as well as in crises - starting with the earliest communities – perhaps as long as 350,000 generations ago.  Human groups are characterized by coordination and cooperation.  When did those exchanges become widely monetized?  After the Industrial  Revolution, perhaps 12 generations ago.  So for 349,988 generations human communities thrived by virtue of exchanging [mostly] without quantification.               
I’m not speaking here of Free as a ‘new radical price’, like the book of that title, though I agree that trend is important.  I’m speaking of exchanging freely, with abandon, the way children learn in play.  Sparking curiosity and enabling Neuroplasticity: the power of our brains to move with the new, in the moment - perhaps the most important skill of this century.  
From Fast Company, “Enterprise MicroLearning”,   

Twitter, a public micro-sharing network used by many early adopters, has become an integral part of my own professional practice and personal brain-building. I use it to connect, share, and discover information far beyond any other network. I've grown to realize the field might better be thought of as micro-learning where the conduit is tiny and the lessons spread are vast. Across an enterprise -- be it around the globe or down the hall -- the learning potential is endless, while the opportunities to connect to knowledge are exploding in number and variety.

I use it in a way similar to how I touch base with my friends and family, briefly and frequently, and I now extend that level of care to involve my coworkers and business partners. I can find someone to review an article as effortlessly as I can offer personal experience to a colleague on how to select a webinar platform or which organizations have successfully launched their own brand Wikipedia. This is all akin to the magic of open-source software, created through public grassroots collaboration.  
                                      - Marcia Conner, Pistachio Consulting, www.twitter.com/marciamarcia

The two comments below, in response to my blog post, “Harvard Study Confirms That Twitter is Unique”, point to that same synergistic learning:   

...for me Twitter is like being in a perpetual book store…yet many have some pretty strong perceptions and opinions about Twitter despite having never even tried it.

One other practical ‘value’ I would add to your list that I honestly didn’t think about when I first started using twitter…are the new friends and people with whom I have shared interests with that I have met thru twitter, and in some cases started to get to know in a deeper way than others that I meet in my typical day to day business dealings. And over time, these new ‘friendships’ can blossom into live face to face meetings and collaborations…Pretty amazing to think about speaking or I should say tweeting to people a few times a week that you never met before, yet overtime, you become ‘friends’ and collaborators etc.
                 - Ellen Hoenig-Carlson, Advance MarketWoRx, www.twitter.com/ellenhoenig

 I get news, commentary, inspiration, information and a view into the collective consciousness from Twitter.

The Twitter experience for me is like seeing clouds from above… Once a rare treat that has become more accessible to more people over time.

                                                - Janet Johnson, O'Johnson Partners, www.twitter.com/janetleejohnson
Those who are bewildered by social media are often those who haven’t enjoyed a good sample.  They haven’t yet noticed a simple – but powerful - factor:  it feels good.  Recent brain research shows that helping others – including mentoring, and donating money and energy to charities – stimulates the same part of the brain as sex and chocolate.   As far as I know, as of this writing no one has tested to see if free exchanges on Twitter show up in the same place on an fMRI.  But hang on, I bet it will soon be forthcoming.
In this sense, social media may be more than an innovation: they may be revolutionary in their disturbance - as corporate marketers fear.  Exchanging freely feels good.  It’s rich. The results may not be easy to measure, but they’re a form of wealth with a very long history.      
And don’t make the mistake of trying to fool anyone.  Our brains are exquisitely sensitive to community.  People can tell whether a proposed contribution or a free offer is real and sincere, or not.  The punishment of pretending to be part of community is likely to be harsh.          
 

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Are You Fit to Thrive in Any Economy?