iii) summary of evolutionary psychology on managerial impact

"...Yes, you can train people, teach them about different ideas, and exhort them to change their attitudes. But evolutionary psychology asserts that there is a limit to how much the human mind can be remoulded. Proponents of evolutionary psychology assert that, because of natural selection, human beings living and working in today's modern civilisation retain the hardwired mentality - that is, the needs, drives, and biases - of Stone Age hunter-gatherers. The theory of evolutionary psychology is complex, and its implications equally so. But below is a summary of some points that evolutionary psychologists would make to managers trying to understand human behaviour..."

Nigel Nicholson, 1998

On the other hand, it is claimed

"...evolutionary physiology makes a lot of sense when it intends to explain a different behavioural patterns displayed by males and females in courtship of sexual congress: evolutionary physiology strays when it seeks to explain historical trends or artistic tastes..."

Howard Gardner, 2006a


If people are hardwired to...

Then the message for managers is to...


use emotions as the first screen for all information received


recognise that people hear bad news, such as a negative performance review, first and loudest, even when the majority of the news is good.



be careful of who is in charge of the organisation's performance appraisal system.


avoid risky situations when feeling relatively secure and to fight frantically when feeling threatened


understand that people will resist change except when they are already dissatisfied.



realise that people will act and think creatively when given space, safety, and support.


feel more self-confident than reality justifies


routinely question whether they or their employees are understanding the difficulty of work-related challenges.


quickly classify people, situations, and experiences into categories - good or bad, in or out - rather than engage in time-consuming and nuanced analysis


be careful that the interview process has controls for objective judgement.



realise that mixing disparate functions or teams means having to overcome a deep-rooted human propensity to stereotype strangers.




not waste time trying to eradicate rumours. plug into the grapevine and make sure it stays healthy, not malicious.


participate in public competitions for status and chest thumping about their success (true of men in particular)


encourage employees to refrain from one-upmanship but understand you are fighting their programming.


feel most comfortable in communities with no more than 150 members


keep organisations from growing too large and break them into smaller cells if they do.



refrain from asking people to identify with more than one group at a time - such as a regional group and a product group.


seek superiority or security in hierarchical systems


recognise that hierarchy is forever and that people will establish status distinctions even if the organisation tries to remove them.


lead in different ways or not be leaders at all


understand that the desire to lead is perhaps the most important characteristic a leader can possess.



accept that people cannot demonstrate leadership qualities they don't innately possess, even if the business situation urgently demands it.

(sources: Nigel Nicholson, 1998; Brad Hatch, 2006c; Howard Gardner, 2006a; Richard Branson, 2008)


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