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  • Shannon Eastman

What “The Selfish Gene” taught me about human behaviour.

If you’re anything like me, human behaviour is a subject that raises the hair on your arms. My initial desire to learn about this came from trying to figure out the opposite sex in my teens. That quickly lead to studying the dynamics at play in the home, at work and at school.

As the saying goes, “Wherever you go, there you are”.

This held true for me when I learned of the equal interest in human behaviour, here at Teach A Brand To Fish.

As part of my reading for August, I was presented with “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins. This book proposes an argument that seeks to describe the motives behind both “selfish” and “altruistic” behaviour. A fundamental insight great marketers need to have, understand and continuously explore. Because what else is marketing, except a deep understanding of human behaviour? 

Not being a huge science guy, I was skeptical to see how a book (that's thicker and heavier than I may have liked) on genes could explain why a brother might share food with a sibling, or why one person may be more popular than another in a social group.

However, as I got into the book it all started coming together.

Following is a summary of what I've taken away from this book as it pertains to Marketing/Business and Creating with your own hands.  

Main message of "The Selfish Gene"

According to Google, genes are units of DNA that contain developmental traits passed down from parent to offspring. The same genetic behaviour found in humans are found in animals and all walks of life. The vehicles (bodies) in which they inhabit may vary, but the goal remains the same.

This goal to reach the next generation tends to show up on the surface level through both selfish and altruistic behaviour.  

This is my take away from this book.

Let’s look at examples of selfish (Narcissistic) and altruistic behaviour and see how they are linked to this.

Selfish Behaviour

Think of two stone age brothers. One is a few years older than the other. They live in an isolated village with a few other families. Their parents were killed in a village raid so they are forced to scavenge for food everyday. When they run into luck and a neighbour leaves a bowl of food unattended, it becomes a free for all. This is nothing more than their genes at play. As we already know, genes are primarily concerned with being passed onto the next generation. They realise that the vehicles they inhabit (The human body) must survive long enough until it finds a chance to reproduce, and therefore replicate the genes. With this at play at the deeper level, this shows up on the surface as kicking, screaming and fighting for the biggest piece of food.                                                                                                                           

Altruistic Behaviour

Now let’s take the same two siblings, all other conditions being the same. The only difference is that the older child is paralysed. When the bowl of food comes around he suggests that his younger brother takes the bigger piece of food. On the surface this appears to be quite selfless, however there is a deeper, ‘selfish’ layer to this very act. The genes of the older brother understand that the important thing is the passing on of DNA to the next generation. In an ideal situation, he would have a part in that. However, his condition makes that very unlikely. Because of that, his next best option is to ensure that those in his younger brother get the best chance of doing that as they are close enough.                                                        

How does this relate to you as a Business Owner?

The book was a thought-provoking piece on why humans do what they do. It encourages us to take a moment to see when other people are being run by their biological drives, especially at work. It also lets you hold the mirror up to yourself and see your blind spots.

In marketing, we tend to apply this concept in a simple, yet nuanced way that allows us to continuously generate results that our previous marketing of a decade or so, couldn't hope to deliver. 

If self mastery is something that’s interesting to you, then understanding (a wee bit about) what’s happening on a cellular level can make it easier for us to see why we act as we do. It's worth a read/ or listen if audio books are your thing. 

Link to book. 

While we're here, if your pursuit of self mastery has room for a pit stop this November in Athlone, perhaps you will consider attending our 2-day event: Wrap-Up 18! Set-Up 19!

Details can be found here