November 14, 2015


Filed under: Consumer Trends,Innovation,Marketing — by xrematon @ 8:55 pm
Tags: , , ,

I’ve recently had the opportunity to read Sapiens. It’s one of those books that academics, whose specialist subjects may be referenced, get rather sniffy about as Sapiens doesn’t bother getting the details right in the pursuit of a good story. Like Jared Diamond’s efforts, it’s a book that proposes a theory of everything, which is terribly seductive and hard to resist.

Now, as I am not an expert in any of the areas covered in the book, I was all too happy to be swept along. Even though the little details might not always be right, for me that doesn’t matter. What I appreciate is the ideas that challenge existing preconceptions or reframe familiar events into something more interesting. I’ll talk through a couple.

The author, Harari, puts forward the idea that living as a hunter gatherer might actually have been not so bad. This is down to having a wholesome (lots of fresh stuff) and varied diet (you eat whatever was in season that you could find around you), the relatively short working week (there was no office to go to, not even any crops or livestock to look after, let alone a house to keep clean), and few infectious diseases (people did not live close to animals, which are often a source of disease, and there were no big group settlements, which would facilitate the spread of germs).

Whilst I do not wish to propose that my lifestyle is genuinely comparable to that of a hunter gatherer, there are parallels: as a freelancer, my working week can be short (sometimes at least), I have time to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, and I am at relatively low risk of catching infectious diseases as I work at home alone with no commute on crowded public transport. Not sure about the foraging bit – see image below for what I managed to find in the garden this morning – and I don’t think hunting through the fridge to see if there are good leftovers to convert into a tasty lunch really counts!

Hunter gatherer in Nov

Another idea which captured my imagination is the idea that “money is the most universal and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised”. Whilst we are still smarting from the near collapse of the global financial system, it is worth going back to the most fundamental ideas which make it hold together. Harari writes: “Why do I believe in the cowry shell or gold coin or dollar bill? Because my neighbours believe in them. And my neighbours believe in them because I believe in them.” Simple but quite scary in a way.

The final observation I would like to touch on is how Harari reframes the importance of the Age of Enlightenment to be not so much about great discoveries, but about recognising, accepting and acting on ignorance.

“The great discovery that launched the Scientific Revolution was the discovery that humans do not know the answers to their most important questions. Premodern traditions of knowledge such as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Confucianism asserted that everything that is important to know about the world is already known [via the gods and their writings/stories].”

Working in the marketing industry which tends to get rather obsessed with the idea of creativity, it’s quite refreshing to think about the power of ignorance. Ignorance – perhaps the less glam side to curiosity – is actually very useful for making progress on ideas that change the world. But you don’t often hear ‘I don’t know’. In a world of Big Data, it’s more often the case ‘I know too much’. But do we?


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