Unbroken Chain (pt. 2): The Jump From Biology to Business

NOTE: This article is pt. 2/3 of an article written to explaining my theory, as an undergraduate at NYU Stern, of what ethical business is. It is heavily influenced by eastern philosophy and Carl Sagan's scientific perspective. Part 1 can be found below (pt. 3 link is at the bottom):


Who we are.

200,000 Years Ago: Culture

Biological evolution pinnacled with the emergence of homo sapiens a mere 200,000 years ago. If time since the beginning of the universe was represented by the scale of a grand piano, “the whole of human history would occupy a space less than the width of one piano string right at the top of the keyboard”. A large prefrontal cortex enabled humans to replace the glacial pace of biological innovation, which depended on an entire lifetime to pass before change was even possible, with a sophisticated ability to simulation future outcomes. This allowed them to determine the best probability of survival from several options without having to rely on species extinction for correction, and led to an increasing level of prosperity.

This prosperity, along with innovations such as currency—which first arose around Mesopotamia in 3000BC6—permitted specialists who contributed value to human needs beyond survival and security, such as beauty, spirituality and leisure. These early specialists had no way of knowing, besides trial and error, whether their efforts would be well received or not. In fact, some of history's most celebrated specialists—Galileo Galilei and El Greco to name a two—toiled in obscurity during their lifetimes, gaining recognition for their contributions years after their death. One can only imagine how many more specialists were never able to adequately meet market demand, and spent their lives in vain.

235 Years Ago: Business

In 1776, The Wealth of Nations was written by Adam Smith. By criticizing the prevailing mercantilist doctrine, and promoting free trade, specialization of production, and free markets, the book laid the foundation of modern economic theory. Specialization of production was a critical theme of the industrial revolution, and its importance in society has only increased with the complexity of production. Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling, a visual masterpiece of the Renaissance, took one visionary and a group of assistants three years to complete. Avatar, a blockbuster film and visual masterpiece of the early 21st century, credits over 2,100 people for its creation.

More interestingly, of Avatar's estimated $450 million budget, 33% was devoted to just marketing—including detailed research of how best to present the product to consumers. This is an example of how business, by evolving from the old paradigm of societal specialization to the increased granularity of production specialization, is able to devote time and expertise to activities such as risk mitigation, as opposed to just project completion. Business allows an even more robust simulation of possible outcomes, supplementing the powerful prefrontal cortex with institutionalized best practice techniques passed down through education, and an ever increasing access to the statistical truths underlying our world.

Next update out! pt. 3: With Us or Against Us: How Every Business Has a Social Impact (whether they like it or not)