Guns, Germs, and Steelis an incredible explanation of human history, getting to the bottom of a question asked by a New Guinean Politician named Yali, who asked, “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo…but we black people had little cargo of our own?” You know, half a million years ago the first humans started to leave Africa to look for food. Eventually, they got sick of walking (among other reasons that are actually a lot more important), and 11,000 years ago started developing agriculture, which is a huge milestone in human history. But by the 15th century, there were enormous differences between civilizations.
I think that, while this is a history book, there are many parallel symbols between the patterns of early society and the environment of modern business; why some businesses grow to develop so much cargo, but others are left to fizzle out to have little cargo of their own.
Rise of the Civilizations?
A good place to start is to see how certain societies came to be so powerful militarily, technologically, and economically, while other societies were seemingly left behind. Diamond argues that the answer lies in the theory of geographic determinism, which is that societies and societal development primarily arise from geographical causes, not so much because of any superiority in the race. Therefore, the development was due to the early humans solving problems, rather than accepting the traditional ways of the world. This is exactly the type of mindset that we need to progress in business.
As I mentioned, up until about 11,000 years ago, all humans were hunter gatherers, but eventually the early humans in some societies learned how to plant certain seeds, resulting in crops that could be harvested. The first sites of agriculture was in the Middle East, followed by Mesoamerica and China. Agriculture arose in those regions because game and fruit were becoming scarce, so they had to figure out a way to feed their families. They also learned how to domesticate wild animals and began to use them to assist in the agricultural work, which certainly allowed them increase efficiency in food production.
Because of these agricultural societies’s constant proximity to domesticated animals and increased population density, new germs began circulating and those who couldn’t survive died and the rest developed an immunity that they could pass on to their kids and so on. Also, because of the fact that agriculture can be stored for longer periods, this created the concept of leisure time, which contributed to the invention of new technologies. And since these regions were also more heavily populated than the traditional hunter gatherer societies, ideas were able to spread at a much faster rate. Additionally, as the societies began to grow, they also tended to develop a centralized structure of power, which by the 16th century, became the most dominant form of society.
Beginning of Innovation
The societies started to grow and became more powerful once they solved their problem to gather food. Of course, they needed to eat, but the hunter gatherer method wasn’t cutting it for them. Through trial and error they found a way that helped them grow to eventually dominate the world. Sure, the geographic region played a huge part in encouraging the transition to an agricultural society, but what parallels best with the lessons in business is the early human’s ability to solve problems and innovate.
To start a business, the first place to start is by solving problems of the world or even in just your own community. I’m a strong believer in that people buy something because it solves a problem they have and the more serious that problem is to that person, the more he or she is willing to buy and spread the word. By solving a problem, the early societies then innovated and evolved to solve more problems with other inventions and allowed them to increase the gap.
Busy is the New Stupid
It’s important to realize that just solving a problem isn’t enough to grow. You’ll need to constantly evaluate your solution and improve it to make your operation more efficient. As a business owner, eventually your business will grow to the point that you’ll either have to keep working (looking for food) or you can delegate some work to another person (harvest some seeds). So much like with the early humans where they used the domesticated animals to help with agricultural work, freeing up more time to allow them to work on other things, hiring workers (though, you shouldn’t think of them as your domesticated animals…) will free up more time to help innovate your own business.
Many successful entrepreneurs and business leaders, including Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, agree that busyis the new stupid. Being too busy limits the amount of time that you can focus on things that are really important to your business and personal life. For example, my business partners for Patriot Chimney, Matt and Billy, are expert chimney technicians. I stand by the fact that they are some of the most talented and educated in the entire industry. But for our business to grow, it was and is continually important for them to step away from the actual physical labor of chimney work. Instead, we believed that they would be a much better resource training other techs and developing strategic initiatives that will help us grow. Removing them from the work honestly slowed down profits for a little bit, but the profits rebounded and it ultimately allowed us to grow past a plateau and continues to be a strategy we owe our growth to.
How Ideas Spread
Finally, the differences between different groups of peoples are largely because of where they happened to be. And because areas with the same latitude share a similar climate and environment, it was easier for goods, foods, and ideas to spread from east to west, than from north to south. I like to think of this as businesses in similar industries are on the same latitudinal line, and therefore, ideas be shared and replicated a little more easily. Take for example, my chimney company–it’s probably a lot easier to think of ideas from another service based company, like a plumbing company, than it would be to take ideas from a large tech company like IBM or Facebook.
In order to grow your company, it might be beneficial for you to form sort of an “alliance” with like-companies so that you can bounce ideas off each other. This could be with a meet up group, a small business monthly breakfast group, or you could simply have a mentor. Whatever you do, you don’t have to do it alone. Ideas form from collaboration and discussion, and that’s exactly how you should grow your business. Of course, be extremely picky about who and what you’re collaborating with and be extremely objective on ideas, because not everything transfers to your business.