The Remarkable History Of Human Adaptability

Silvia Damiano
18 October 2018
3 min read

Anthropology is the study of human cultures and societies. It looks at all the factors that make us human. The beginnings of our story stretch back millions of years in time, and anthropology seeks to unravel the long-hidden mysteries of human existence in an attempt to explain the past so that we can better understand the future.

The About My Brain Institute - The Remarkable History Of Human Adaptability

Unless it’s your field of study or a hobby project, most people likely have a fuzzy understanding of what anthropology encompasses. Scientists look to answer questions about humanity, including:

  • When did humans develop verbal languages? Written languages?
  • Do all societies organise themselves in the same way? Is marriage (or some version) typically present?
  • Are most humans “good”? Are some humans inherently “evil”?
  • Is the human brain still evolving?
  • How has technology shaped the values of human beings? Or ideas of socialism, fascism, or capitalism?
  • Fortunately, our ancestors exhibited agility and the ability to change (sometimes rapidly) to conditions around them. Imagine how the world was when we actually had to run away from predators and depend on the next hunt for survival.

THE EVER-CHANGING, AMAZING HUMAN BRAIN

Our brains are plastic, which means they can change throughout our lives. You can “teach an old dog new tricks” because the brain allows new connections to form between neurons. This plasticity likely served early humans well, allowing them to rapidly learn and adjust to their environments.

Even more interesting, our brains as a species seem to be continuing to evolve. A gene called Microcephalin regulates brain size, and the modern version of the gene arose around 37,000 years ago at a very rapid frequency. The spread of this gene occurred faster than can be explained with neutral drift, indicating strong positive selection.1

TAKING RISKS IS THE HUMAN WAY

Taking risks is part of being a human being. Everything we do is a calculated risk, from getting into the car, taking a new job, or deciding to adopt a puppy. For leaders, risks may include marching to your own drum or going with a gut instinct.  

To create an organization that’s adaptable and innovative, people need the freedom to challenge precedent, to ‘waste’ time, to go outside of channels, to experiment, to take risks and to follow their passions.

 Gary Hamel

Our world is continuously changing, which brings us new technologies, scientific advances, and incredible art and literature. We must all adapt faster than ever, and the demands on our personal and professional lives can be overwhelming, negatively impacting our conduct with others and the decisions we make.

To effectively navigate constantly shifting conditions, we must become lifelong learners. Instead of floundering around, desperately trying to keep up with the flow, we should develop our abilities and create a vision for the future.2

READ ANTHROPOLOGY BOOKS TO INCREASE ADAPTABILITY

Learning about anthropology is important for everyone because it is our history. But more than that, anthropology gives us clues about our future. Consider these books to broaden your mind and delve into the fascinating world of anthropology.

  • A Primate’s Memoir: A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons: Written by Robert M. Sapolsky, he tells the story spanning twenty-one years of his time in Kenya living with a troop of baboons. It will make you laugh and cry as you learn about the challenges for man and beast living in the Serengeti.
  • One River: Written by Wade Davis, this is the story of two generations of explorers in South America. Inspired by his professor, Richard Even Schultes, Davis explores a mystical land seeking to unravel the secrets of coca, known to the Inca as the Divine Leaf of Immortality.
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies: Written by Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel reviews human history since the Ice Age and attempts to explain gaps in power and technology in different human societies.

Leaders today are expected to exhibit great agility and adaptability. Learning about new ideas and thoughts, even from the past, can help us better understand our potential.

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Citation:
1. Evans PD, Gilbert SL, Mekal-Bobrov N, Vallender EJ, Anderson JR, Vaez-Azizi LM, Tishkoff SA, Hudson RR, Lahn BT. Microcephalin, a gene regulating brain size, continues to evolve adaptively in humans. Science. 2005;309(5741):1717-20).
2. Damiano, S. Wellbeing Strategies for Optimal Brain & Body Performance: Inspired by the Documentary Make Me A Leader. About my Brain Institute. 2018.

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Silvia Damiano

Silvia Damiano

Founder & CEO
About my Brain Institute

Scientist, educator, author, speaker, coach, award-winning leadership specialist, filmmaker and creator of the i4 Neuroleader Model & Methodology.

Silvia's scientific background and curiosity about the human brain led her to a decade long journey of research into optimal brain functioning and the application of neuroscience in leadership and daily life. Her past and current roles have uniquely prepared her for the current undertaking, that of leadership activist & change agent.

Silvia Damiano founded The About my Brain Institute in 2009, with the purpose of democratising leadership & neuroscience. She has a passionately held belief, that leaders in our 21st century global economy and their organisations must radically change long-held ideas of what constitutes effective leadership

In her ground-breaking books ‘Leadership is Upside Down’, ‘Brain-Friendly Leadership’ and the 2018 documentary ‘Make Me A Leader’, Silvia provides both compelling evidence and explores the importance of leadership in our personal and professional lives and what it takes to develop the human behind the leader.

Silvia has worked in different countries, across many industries, helping teams and organisations improve business performance. Silvia’s clients have described her as a passionate, dynamic, a highly experienced speaker and master facilitator on the topics of Emotional Intelligence, Cultural Change, Neuroleadership & Engagement.

Silvia is passionate about leaving a legacy of well-rounded leaders who can act and decide in a way that better serves humanity. Her clients include Microsoft, Australian Stock Exchange, NSW Government, VISA, Fuji Xerox and Manpower amongst many other global companies.

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