What drives human culture to change? Speaking with a young acquaintance recently, they were marvelling at the fact that in history one moment everyone was pounding rocks and then all of a sudden bronze spears appeared. Of course it is not as simple as that and the transition from stone to bronze and onwards into the Iron Age didn’t happen in the same instant across the whole world; but scientists have long argued over what factors were key in driving the ascent of man.
Now a team lead by Cardiff University, the London Natural History Museum and the University of Barcelona believe that they may have come up with one of the answers. Researching marine sediment off the coast of South Africa the team has found some remarkable coincidences between sudden developments in climate change and human innovation. Key periods of human development around 71,500 years ago, 64,000 years ago and 59,000 years ago appear to coincide with rapid climate change in which humans appear to have been driven away from more northern climes and towards the south of Africa.
Presenting the study, London Natural History Museum team member, Professor Chris Stringer said that „the correspondence between climatic ameliorations and cultural innovations supports the view that population growth fuelled cultural changes, through increased human interactions“.
Fast forward to today and regardless of your views on the climate change debate, we are now living in a period in which the capacity for human interactions has never been greater. The span between developing symbols and language or crafting increasingly complex tools may have lasted thousands of years but the pace of change has been ever more rapid. This means that in the last few hundred years we have moved through waves of development at a pace which would have been unheard of in earlier times.
At the time of writing there is only one man left alive who was born in the 1800’s. But that man has seen the world move through three successive waves of development. Since ‘business’ began in its modern context we’ve had the ‘industrial’ age where the focus was on physical product and manufacturing. We then moved more recently into the ‘information’ age where we’ve focussed on the combination of physical product and information in order to create services and systems with technology as our main enabler. Now the world is moving on again into the innovation age; moving from the “what” to the “how”; transforming itself from leading the way with purely product innovation to setting innovation culture at the heart of an exceptional customer experience.
Just as climate change forced increased human interactions which lead to the development of tools and more complex language, so the universality of computers and modern technology has lead to the next wave of human and business development. In a world in which every business can access the same products and technologies, the only differentiator is in the way in which business builds relationships and experiences for the customer. Anyone can sell a square blue box but if the customer experience is exceptional then they will return again and again to buy their blue boxes from you, as will their friends and everyone else whom they influence via social media.
A recent Harvard Business Review revealed that a study of thousands of companies showed that those businesses which put “better before cheaper” and “revenue before cost” were the companies which were generally recognised as being exceptional. The review commented that “great companies typically accept costs as the price of excellence; putting significant resources over long periods of time into creating non-price value and generating higher revenue.”
So what does the transition to the innovation culture age mean for businesses? Well it’s not rocket science but it does require an organisation-wide transformation lead strongly from the CEO and the leadership team. It means setting innovation and the drive for excellence at the heart of the business with every process geared towards providing an exceptional service.
And for those organisations which fail to adopt an innovation culture? Well we do know that there were several versions of early hominids, most of which died out. Perhaps they in their turn failed to take advantage of the innovations which climate change and increased interaction brought to our ancestors. If that is true then there may only be one outcome for non-adopters of this latest wave of human development in the shape of innovation culture.
If driving innovation and building it into your organisations culture is a current strategic challenge, get in touch and see how we can help.