To Farm or Not To Farm

Human beings started domesticating wild plants and animals sometime around 8,000 B.C. That started the shift from a hunter-gatherer existence to domestication and settled farming. Hunting-gathering is an okay way of subsistence so long as there are more lucky days than ones when not much turns up. On the contrary a settled-farming society can expect (a) more predictability of food, (b) predictable – perhaps lesser – work schedules, (c) greater attention to family and raising children and (d) greater longevity.

This shift took millenniums to achieve, but most importantly the early humans realized that their end goal of species propagation cannot be sustained through an erratic hunt-gather way of life. While the start and end of this metamorphosis is well understood, for a moment think how it must have been towards the middle – or around the 25th percentile. Undoubtedly there were rival groups supporting either forms of existence. And they would have had their cogent reasoning. All said, hunting-gathering was proven and yielded results. The settled farming camp had it tougher, I am sure. They had to sell a concept, perhaps build a prototype of a farm and wait for a drought or famine to come about that would conclusively prove their argument.

I view the start-up, adrenalin pumping way of life versus the “large company” process driven existence as symptomatically similar to the example above. Just as a small tribe that has existential needs of only a handful can be profligate in their ways to not farm and only hunt and gather, a start-up company often exists in a similar bent of mind. A more process driven, settled existence is derided – mostly with the argument of slower turnaround (our early ancestors also had to deal with it, I am sure. “Today I can just go out and kill a boar and eat it. But in your way we’ll have to wait till it becomes big enough for it to be food”). It takes a phenomenal amount of evangelization before the change can be brought about. The problem becomes compounded when a start-up is bought out by a large company and the matter assumes tinges of cultural conflict.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet but the metamorphosis need not (a) take as much times as it did in human evolution (b) simply subsume into a bureaucratic maze that masquerades as settled existence. The hunter-gatherer culture depends on rock-star performers and the start-up equivalence is also somewhat similar. And once these individuals buy into the settled existence idea, it spreads like a virus. Like our ancestors, prototyping the concept may help and it is important that both forms of existence be allowed to continue just so the experiment has a control sample to refer back to.

Many equalize a settled existence with a sloth existence. The reality is far from it. A settled existence merely allocates human enterprise and intellect to initiatives that result in maximum return rather than spreading them thin over fragmented activities.

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