How agriculture ruined business – on bread and collaboration (part 2)

In my previous post, I discussed the theory that the development of agriculture lead to the co-development of settlements and property rights which in turn lead to ownership of things, and people. Apparently, the data is not as clear as I was thinking, as someone kindly pointed out: it’s also very well possible that larger settlements with property rights occurred a while before agriculture was a thing (see e.g. Why Nations Fail – but that’s an upcoming post on its own as well). Research of human history is complicated, and I am by no means an expert, so for the purpose of this blog, I am going with this: Humans decided to settle down at one point in their development. Either at about the same time or a little bit later, they developed agriculture (yay bread!). In roughly the same time frame, they developed property rights and connected ideas. The key point here, for me, is not necessarily the agricultural part, but the fact that humans underwent a fundamental change towards a property-focused lifestyle, and we are still feeling the effects of it today, in business and other areas. Blaming bread for all of it was maybe a little bit unfair.

With that being said, how do we proceed from here? For the longest time, property, ownership, and ultimately scarcity have been a defining component of being human, if it was bread’s fault or not. Even if you are very well off, you will still worry about money, for example. It seems like a¬† plausible reason for silo formation in organizations as well – why collaborate and give up part of one’s influence, budget, or people? But then again, why do people collaborate at all? There’s a concept called egoistical altruism that is best explained by this kurzgesagt video on YouTube. It’s seven minutes of¬†lighthearted animation explaining how our world has changed (again!) from a zero-sum game to a positive-sum game. This means that it is no longer in a person’s own selfish best interest to think of just themselves, and that’s such a beautiful loophole around our programming.

How do we apply this to the business world though? In the video, they are more focused on explaining why far-away places and cultures are suddenly relevant to your own well-being in our connected world, but what about Jane from accounting or John from supply chain? I feel the same principal applies: when I do my best to make them successful, I also do what is best for my own selfish interests – for instance my job security, development opportunities, or even just friendly relationships with my colleagues. My work is also plain more fun the more connected and collaborative I can be, and when I am having fun, I do better work.