David Amerland
Neanderthals and marketing

What a 50,000 Year Old Technology Can Tell Us About Modern Marketing

The answer to the question of whether Neanderthals had mastered fire remains inconclusive. A recent piece in The Atlantic showed how an archaeologist went looking for the answer by recreating the tools Neanderthals had and trying to create fire.

Because archaeologists have never found the specialized tools we think are needed to start a fire the assumption was that Neanderthals used fire but they collected it from natural sources, like lightening strikes and therefore did not control it.

Through his own experiments the archeologist found evidence that suggests that the Neanderthals had, also, used tools to control fire that also served many other purposes which is why no specialized fire-starting tools were found, but the question is far from settled. The fossil record is not complete and in the gaps uncertainty reigns supreme.

Maybe the Neanderthals were a lot more skilled at using flint stone tools in which case they would indeed be able to start a fire at will. Maybe there are other reasons we do not yet know on why the corroborative evidence that archaeology has is not stronger. And maybe the 50,000 year gap is just too much to successfully bridge.

Flint stone tools, 50,000 years ago were the cutting edge of technology. Officially, Neanderthals wouldn’t cease to exist as a species for another 10,000 years which means that from our current standpoint they outlived us my more than eight millennia and no species finds long-term success without devising ways that allow it to completely control its environment.

The assumption that fire was something the Neanderthals harvested only from natural sources would have them using it abundantly during the warm season and sparsely during the cold one, plus there is no guarantee they’d be able to cook food whenever they needed it which, from a nutritional point of view, poses several different problems when it comes to mental and physical development.

This is where marketing parallels come in.

Every successful species shares three specific characteristics with every successful company (and every successful marketing approach):

  • Control your environment – learn to use what you have to achieve more than one outcome. If you specialize in your toolset it is likely that inefficiencies will creep in and even, as circumstances change, some tools will become outdated and redundant. In an environment where resources are scarce this is not a winning strategy.
  • Focus on what works – the key here is the outcome, not the tools you use. If the outcomes you get are not ones you need in order to succeed long term you may want to re-examine your tool-usage strategy.
  • Refine and evolve – nothing stands still and nothing lasts forever. It’s important to realize this. The best anyone can hope for is to be able to adapt fast enough to last until they just run out of room to adapt.

These are three truths that run deep. Here’s a fourth: posterity will always fail to completely grasp your context. Time and different perspectives will create practical and conceptual chasms that will be hard to overcome.

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