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What Cavemen Can Teach Us About Management

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Today’s guest blog is about business improvement through better management—but focuses on what we should know because it’s part of our history. That’s right: it’s what cavemen can teach us about management.

We are a product of our ancestry. The traits that held the highest chance of survival were passed down to us. We carry the genes of those who survived and were able to protect their progeny. It’s who we are. It permeates much of what we do, how we perceive things, and how we react. And naturally, it’s part of the workplace.

We often respond in the same ways our forefathers did as they hunted, gathered, and huddled in caves. We are instinctual creatures, and may be more hard-wired to respond to outside stimulus than we realize. When we understand how an amygdala hijack affects us (pdf), or that basic articulation skills of men are lower than women, we may use this knowledge to everyone’s advantage in business.

Management and Decision Making: Caveman

© Flickr user technotheory

Four Examples of Using Human Instincts in the Workplace

People are comfortable with family units of 7, and tribes of 150 – In hunter/gatherer tribes, these were the ideal numbers—large enough to offer protection from predators and other tribes of humans, yet small enough to shelter and feed. Don’t let teams become too large or small. Break large groups up into smaller groups, or combine teams to achieve an ideal family unit size.

People Gossip – Those in the know have always held an upper hand. Having the inside scope in the cave could’ve meant the difference between being ostracized, or becoming the next alpha male or his partner. You will never stop gossip – it’s part of who we are. What you can do is stay plugged in – listen, learn, and influence. You cannot stop gossip, but you might be able to lead it in a positive direction.

People react emotionally before they think logically – Many cavemen survived because they reacted emotionally and instinctively. Those who were in-touch with their emotions and environment had a higher likelihood of survival. When put in a bad situation, they often survived because they allowed their emotions, such as fear, to take over.

Delivering bad news in the workplace may cause a similar emotional illogical disconnect. Regardless of how much positive news there may be, delivering a bad performance review, corrective action, or critique may evoke a defensive response, which will likely result in reduced performance and production.

Avoid this by helping others acknowledge their own need for improvement and how this will help them. Share constructive criticism and recognize their positive contributions. When delivering bad news, set the stage that this is a learning opportunity and you’re there to help. Never hand over the responsibility of critiques to anyone untrained, or who has a negative demeanor or outlook.

People avoid risk when they are comfortable – Given enough food and shelter to survive, our ancestors did just that. They risked exposure only when forced by lack of food or shelter. Knowing this can help managers understand that, regardless how positive or important change for an organization may be, most will resist it.

To drive change, people must be taken out of their comfort zone, but supported by management. For example, when our marketing team at TKO Graphix first became involved in social media it was…uncomfortable. However, management was supportive, giving us time and autonomy, and allowing for educational opportunities. The result was an out-of-the-box creative and positive approach to change.

People are creatures of instinct, and will often react in predictable ways, regardless of how it may affect business or what may be best for them. Knowing this, it’s possible to use these instincts to drive your business in a positive direction, rather than fighting a losing battle against instincts.

If you’d like to learn more, Dr. Jane Goodall and Hard Wired Human offer valuable insights. You can also read the Harvard Business Review white paper, How Hardwired Is Human Behavior (pdf), by Nigel Nicholson. These resources offer a wealth of information on this subject.

Headshot of Randy ClarkRandy Clark is the Director of Communications at TKO Graphix, where he blogs for TKO Graphix Brandwire. Randy is passionate about social media, leadership development, and flower gardening. He is a beer geek and on weekends he can be found fronting the Rock & Roll band Under The Radar. He is the proud father of one educator, one Principal, has four amazing grand children, and a public speaking wife who puts up with him. His twitter handle is @randyclarktko, or search Facebook for Randy Clarktko.

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