All Humans Are Entrepreneurs

May 10 2012

All human beings are entrepreneurs. When we were in the caves, we were all self-employed… finding our food, feeding ourselves. That’s where human history began. As civilization came, we suppressed it. We became “labor” because they stamped us, “You are labor.” We forgot that we are entrepreneurs.

That’s the quote from Nobel Peace Prize-winner Muhammad Yunus that opens the book. In the book Brain Rules, author John Medina writes about the journey of early humans (emphasis added):

You might suspect that the odds against our survival were great. You would be right. The founding population of our direct ancestors is not thought to have been much larger than 2,000 individuals; some think the group was as small as a few hundred. How, then, did we go from such a wobbly, fragile minority population to a staggering tide of humanity 7 billion strong and growing? There is only one way, according to Richard Potts, director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. You give up on stability. You don’t try to beat back the changes. You begin not to care about consistency within a given habitat, because such consistency isn’t an option. You adapt to variation itself.

It was a brilliant strategy. Instead of learning how to survive in just one or two ecological niches, we took on the entire globe. Those unable to rapidly solve new problems or learn from mistakes didn’t survive long enough to pass on their genes. The net effect of this evolution was that we didn’t become stronger; we became smarter. We learned to grow our fangs not in the mouth but in the head. This turned out to be a pretty savvy strategy. We went on to conquer the small rift valleys in Eastern Africa. Then we took over the world.