Are you into Inclusive Fitness? No, it’s not the latest diet craze. It’s the latest survival-of-humanity craze. It’s about adding to the population by supporting those around us. Cooperative social behavior is actually a good thing — and science proves it (kind of). Jonah Lehrer has written a story in the New Yorker about a scientific thrown-down of sorts. “Kin and Kind.” details the fight behind the genetics of altruism. Why are most of us inherently generous and kind with one another? When you boil Darwinism down, it’s all about fighting and doing anything and everything to persist and survive (sounds like working in Advertising, I know) — so why are we so nice to each-other? Well, one way to look at this is through kin selection — we are more likely to risk our well-being for relatives (especially our children). Why? Well this is about the selection of “altruisitic” traits based on their effect on increasing the reproductive fitness of our relatives. It is integral to social evolution in nature — if we want family, friends and co-workers to ‘survive’, then our responsibility goes beyond not killing them — in fact, it’s in our best interest to support them. Does this explain bravery and selflessness? Well, in some instances, yes. Certainly with close family members. But when it comes to our larger social circles, whether we know it or not, we have the community as a whole in mind. Of course this begs the question of why there are people out there like the ‘captain’ of the Costa Concordia — someone who would leave hundreds of people in his charge for dead, just to save himself? No easy answer to this one. Other than he is exercising Inclusive Fitness in a Darwinian fashion. Which begs another question: If we indeed have survival in mind must a captain go down with his ship?
We’re always so preoccupied with how dangerous the world is around us– often vastly overestimating the odds of murder, terrorost attacks and the like, but in his latest 800-ebook-page heavyweight, author Stephen Pinker (professor of psychology in the department of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT) tells us violence has been diminishing for millennia and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species’s existence. Now, what I love about this is Pinker takes an assumption and blows it up with detailed analysis. It’s not so much the result that I envy, but his approach. He lays it out this way:
The Five Major Historical Forces for Peace:
The Leviathan (the state; reigns in internal violence)
Gentle Commerce (economic incentives for cooperation)
Feminization (empowerment of women; men are naturally more violent)
The Expanding Circle (empathy; sympathizing with ever wider classes)
The Escalator of Reason (rationality; application of empathy)
Our work as strategists requires us to take rather complicated behavioral transitions and make sense of them, and what Pinker does best is provide a strong foundation and a clear and logical step-by-step analysis. He may be right, he may be wrong. But that doesn’t matter. What I look for is how persuasive he can be. That’s the mark of a great writer and thinker.And in light of the current Global situation with Iran, Pinker’s thinking on what prompts nations to attack one-another (cost/benefit equations) has never been more relevant. It’s clear that we exist within a delicate balance of Peace and one small random act or chance taken can upset the status-quo, but for now violence is less pervasive than it has ever been — just be sure to make the right decision when the time comes (or be very, very persuasive yourself).
James Surowiecki loves talking about the aggregation of information in groups, resulting in decisions that, he argues, are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group. But most recently, I’ve been intrigued with Elevator Group Think and the psychology of conformity. This is all too relevant for Strategists, because we spend much of our time listening to groups think aloud — much too much. I’m not advocating becoming a Google Planner, but there has to be a better way out there. What is Elevator Group Think? It refers to a series of experiments known today as the Asch conformity experiments. Basically, an elevator is a microcosm showing how we act and conform to others in the real world. Just watch this video. But Surowiecki to the rescue. He reminds us (in The Wisdom of Crowds) this experiment went on to reveal something equally important — that while people slip into conformity with striking ease, it also doesn’t take much to get them to snap out of it. But that’s the rub — how do we snap them out?
Until now we have been designing buildings to match our climates, but it seems we are now on the verge of designing climates to match our buildings. Take a look at Qatar, which has proposed designing a man made cloud to help keep soccer players cooler while playing in the upcoming World Cup. The “cloud,” filled with helium and built of light carbon material, would use four solar-powered engines for maneuvering between the stadium and the sun to provide shade. Hmm, puts a lot more pressure on architects – or maybe less pressure? I want to grow up to be a climate architect. London is getting into the game for the Olympics as well…
Sometimes we forget that we are still evolving as people. In the grand scheme of things, time passes so slow that no generation stays around to notice — until now. Comparing the genomes of Tibetans and Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group in China, biologists have found that at least 30 genes have undergone evolutionary change in the Tibetans as they adapted to life on the high plateau. Among Tibetans, they found, a set of genes evolved to cope with low oxygen levels as recently as 3,000 years ago. This, if confirmed, would be the most recent known instance of human evolution….While conducting ethnographies we often spend our time looking for quick changes in human behavior, when in fact it may be more interesting to try and identify recent shifts in human evolution and, in particular, see if the specific population we are looking at is changing genetically in response to their local conditions and surrounding culture.