One of the most important Human 1.0 characteristic is culture. According to human evolutionary biologists, humans developed culture (broadly defined as tools, language, rituals, etc.) during the rapid climate swings of the Pleistocene era to deal with those climate changes without having to wait for biological evolution to help us out. So while humans from Lapland and the Sahara Desert were identical 20,000 years ago, transplanting one from one region to the other would surely have resulted in death – the cultures of survival were drastically different. When the Pleistocene era ended about 11,000 years ago, humans realized that they were the only species that could deal with change using culture – and so they started to create their own change and adapted to it through culture. That was driven by evolutionary forces that allowed humans to become the dominant species on earth. Culture is influenced by genetic evolution and vice versa, as Boyd and Richerson (Peter J. Richerson, 2006) argue in one of their great books “Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution.”
Culture – referring to a body of knowledge, rituals, language and beliefs that gets passed around to help us make sense of our surroundings and drive parts of our behavior – can develop and change very rapidly. Take the culture of SMS and that of Twitter – they are both less than a decade old yet very different. They use different languages and different rituals.
Humans create culture in all the different aspects of their lives. There are cultural differences between families, consumer tribes, pop-culture fans, and employee groups. Companies that take the time to understand their customer and employee cultures, or better yet, those that can shape it, can gain game changing advantages over those that don’t. Those that don’t try to understand these cultures can continue to expect high strategic failure rates – like the classic 80% product failure rate that has been plaguing modern companies for decades.
You see – culture trumps strategy. You can develop the best internal or external strategies – change management initiatives, new product development plans, or go-to market strategies –, but if you do not have a good understanding of the cultures in which you will attempt to deploy these strategies, they are almost certain to fail. That does not mean that strategy is not important – it is. It just means that focusing on strategy without understanding the fundamental Human 1.0 cultural characteristics that underlie all successful strategies is like focusing on a recipe without having any understanding of the ingredients.
We have developed a fully comprehensive maturity model to analyze consumer and employee cultures, and I will document that in a future blog post.