Conversations in Management: Neanderthals

Any discovery that helps improve the public image of Neanderthals is welcome.

Clive Gamble

NeanderthalDoes it ever seem like you’re working with a bunch of Neanderthals? Like the guy chattering away on his cell phone in a voice usually reserved for communicating in a gale force wind. Or the twit who’s been heating up his Garlic Tuna Surprise in the office microwave all week. Even worse, do you sometimes suspect that you’re working for a Neanderthal? You know the type. It’s the kind of boss who shows up at 4:45 on a Friday afternoon demanding a complicated report by Monday morning—or else. As your leader shuffles out the door dragging a club (not the golf variety) you realize that now you’ll miss your uncle’s funeral, your daughter’s wedding and be forced to give away your Super Bowl tickets if you want to keep your job. Sadly you don’t just find Neanderthals at work. They’re particularly plentiful in the service industry and rumor has it that there’s at least one Neanderthal lurking among everyone’s in-laws.  No matter where you find them, modern humans like us agree, Neanderthals are just plain annoying.

Clive Gamble and other scientists are working hard, however, to put a positive spin on the Neanderthal’s unflattering image. New discoveries have shown that Neanderthals had language, lived in communities, took care of their sick and when such ministrations failed, buried their dead. They also had an artistic flair. Abstract etchings found in a Gibraltar cave reveal that the Neanderthals produced post-modern art roughly 40,000 years before we did. Now that’s embarrassing! Even more startling, there’s now a sure-fire way of recognizing Neanderthals. You can try it right now. Find a shiny surface and take a look. That smiling, attractive and intelligent face looking back at you is a modern Neanderthal. A look at the Neanderthal genome when compared to our genome revealed that we share at least 20 and perhaps up to 40 percent in common. That’s right, there’s a good bit of Neanderthal in us all.

While some scientists have been busy sorting out the Neanderthals, others have been just as busy trying to figure out modern humans. They discovered that one thing we moderns have in common is the belief that we’re not like other people. A study found that, “most of us appear to believe that we are more athletic, intelligent, organized, ethical, logical, interesting, fair-minded, and healthy—not to mention more attractive—than the average person.” But despite the feeling that we’re different, we’re actually pretty much alike. And the commonality goes a lot deeper than the fact that we all watch the same dreadful TV shows and feast on even more dreadful fast food. Research has shown that our similarities are genetically hard-wired in our brain—just like Neanderthals.

It’s sobering to remember that the Neanderthal we’re complaining about when we get home from work is simultaneously complaining about us in their humble abode. But once we realize that we’re more similar than dissimilar to other folks, we can stop viewing people who annoy us as remnants of an extinct species. Instead of focusing on differences, we can start exploring common ground. If you simply look past the things that annoy you about someone, you’re certain to find interests, values or experiences that you share. You may not become best friends, but you’ll stop believing that one another are Neanderthals. You can’t fight it; it’s in your DNA.   —Ebert

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