Historic Gigster - How the Harnessing of Fire Changed Early Humans and What We Can Learn from This

The large trading centers of the Baltic are typically protected by water, but sometimes, at the most inopportune times, this water freezes over…

While this is primarily a history blog, there are also many fascinating things to learn from what came before. For this article, we are going back about 300 thousand years ago, when early humans were beginning to make effective use of fire. This ability likely impacted human anatomy, and the consequences are of interest to us because it contains an important lesson for today’s business leaders.

Forest fires, whether caused by lightening or a volcanic eruption, must initially have been a terrifying and calamitous event for early humans. However, what remained in its wake was sure to be a significant discovery. Among the devastation they found newly cooked food that was easier to find and collect, but also easier to eat: nuts were exposed, grains and roots were softened, and meat was tender. This food also tended to stay edible longer, so this was a significant find in a time when survival was difficult.

Over time, early humans learned to harness and even make their own fires, which proved tremendously useful for keeping predators at bay, staying warm, and of course, regularly cooking food. Setting fires in a controlled manner provided more food more often which caused the group to grow larger. With food being easier to digest, these early humans no longer needed large jaws with sharp teeth to tear flesh and crack bones and their intestines no longer needed to digest this raw food. As a result, their anatomy slowly changed.

Because food was now easier to come by and would keep longer, there was also more time for other things (like making whoopie), which also contributed to population growth. This growth in turn increased the rate of natural selection thus further accelerating the changes. Eventually, with more time to spend on other activities, these early humans also started to think about solving problems like how to better collaborate and get along. Over time, this led to social arrangements and eventually to governance, and the rest, well, is history.

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Of course, these changes occurred over long stretches of time spanning hundreds of generations, so they were not immediately obvious to the early humans themselves. Practically speaking, if anatomical changes are occurring today, it begs the question of relevance in our own time and during our tiny life span. More specifically, what is the relevance of this to business leaders today?

Let us think back to those early humans who survived the fire. The fact that they survived the fire already suggests that they were just a tad cleverer than the other animals. But then there was the one individual who stood up tall while his comrades were hunched over eating themselves silly with this new bounty. This individual asked himself some questions about what was occurring here: what will they do when the food runs out again? Might it make sense to save one of these smoldering embers so that they could do this again?

Seeing opportunity when others are busy celebrating, or more specifically, seeing opportunity to build on a windfall is a critical business skill. Those who do can do this, and especially those who can do this regularly, maybe even out of habit even, those are the people who will succeed in business. If you are one of those people, congratulations, you will go far. If you are not exactly that gifted but you are the manager, then make sure you hire these kinds of people. They will propel your business forward and who knows, maybe even bring about a whole new revolution.

But that is not all. That individual is not just clever and enterprising, s/he is also achieving an even greater accomplishment, one that definitely qualifies as intellectually advanced. They are are becoming self-aware of their own ability to effectuate change. This is an incredible revelation. No longer are humans only subject to fate, nature, the gods or just dumb luck - they can actually have an impact on their own destiny. We can’t know for sure if that early human understood the deep implications of this eureka moment, but the real question for us today is, whether after hundreds of thousands of years of human development, do we?

This blog post was simultaneously published in The Gigster 'Zine, newsletter published by the Colégas Group discussing new and innovative part-time opportunities & success strategies for anyone with a college degree. To sign up for the newsletter, click here.

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