Growth for Sapiens
Humans unconsciously drove growth during millions of years
Several friends have asked me to define growth marketing in a few words. Usually, I go for the typical “it is an iterative methodology to optimize performance in a funnel” or “a mindset that will help you to reach specific goals in a company”, however, I feel those answers are always oriented to business so I guess it would be interesting to make a different approach. I have been gently reading “Sapiens: A Brief Story of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari and I can’t stop thinking about the iterative process humans experimented during thousand and thousands of years. Ok, millions of years. So here it is: Growth is not only about business, revenues and North Star metric but it can also be about understanding the behaviour and the nature of proactive evolution. In this case: Humans 👨👩👧👦.
Our ancestors lived for 2,5 million years in planet Earth. From primitive species across the world competing or mating for survival to a modern and vain version as we know it today. Well, that’s a long story that involves Sapiens, Neanderthals, Erectus and other friends from those back old days. Humans always did the best to survive and that is part of its nature. You may feel a bit of that feeling if your car is damaged in the middle of the desert with no mobile phone, or you get robbed in the middle of the night, or even worse, you start drowning in the ocean… Ok, enough. Now, imagine that feeling of awareness but in everyday of your life. That would be very scary and exhausting, yet, predators, hunger, diseases and natural disasters forced humans to try new things. Things that made our ancestors overcome all types of obstacles so we can be now, on 2021, reading this -but ironically fighting to other predators such as global virus and climate change.
How did our ancestors managed to survive and adapt constantly to change? Simple. They tested and tested everything. The same that growth teams do. Did they fail? Many times but they had a vision. Survival and curiosity. Mainly the first one.
Similar to successful Startups and big companies, there are situations that made the difference in human history. Actions that changed everything. I am not referring to nearby events that changed modern history (wars, Internet and Michael Jordan) but those things that pivoted life and evolution such as feeding, languages and teamwork. Yes, humans evolved faster than other species on the planet and that could definitely be a great case study of Growth. Yet, it is fascinating to think about what made this happen. After doing some research, two characteristics called my attention in this story of explosive growth: Transferable skills and Cooperation.
This is the ability to transfer skills not only in life, but between generations. Whatever we have learned in life, our grandchildren had the chance to improve it or change it for their own will. Animals can’t do that, they must wait to natural selection decides to assign new features to its species.
This exists because we were always good at gossiping and organizing in groups. We learned to narrate stories about anything or anyone being able to make up things about the rest. The capability to organize in all possible ways to do all kinds of things was the biggest advantage ever seen: Countries, communities, religions, teams fans, etc.
Unlike animals, humans’ evolution was faster. Animals sticked to natural selection) while humans took action and adopted a mindset very similar to two different but complementary models known in Growth Marketing: Growth Loops and Nir Eyal’s The Hooked Model, a process to design habit-forming products. These two models can also be explained as Traction + Product Market Fit:
All the things that humans have created such as tools, techniques or organizations, were meant to have a purpose. If it works, we keep it, if not, we pivot until we find Product Market Fit. This mentality is highly connected to the Hooked Model. For example, cooking our food was a big step in evolution. Our ancestors spent a lot of time chewing raw food and digesting it. That was a reason that our brains were smaller from now. Yet, that was not an issue until someone started cooking the food. Probably, the food may have been cooked first by mistake. For example a fire losing control and burning some raw vegetables and then the crazy uncle trying a roasted piece for fun. Sounds familiar. Now let’s try to imagine how did humans started doing this repeating process.
The Hooked Model in action
Trigger: “I am hungry, I would eat anything”.
Action: Humans had to collect or hunt their food. That didn’t changed too much but what they did after it did. “Let’s cook it”. Note: Check the Fogg Model by Dr. BJ Fogg so as to understand how likely is an action to be done.
Reward: They found out that by cooking the food not only it would be tastier but also it would help them to save time and energy.
Investment: By repeating the action everyday, earning experience and predictability, they had extra energy and time to do other things. Is not coincidence that their brains were benefited in size after this. The cycle was completed, why would they stop doing it?
The Growth Loop in action
Action: The first group cook their food as they have been doing since the discovery.
Outcome: They released an outcome which includes warm and tasty food, more calories, faster digestion and probably some new cool recipes.
New Users: Imagine a second group that never tried that before see this strange but awesome way to eat food. It is very likely that they will try it once they are back on camp. This is also identified as an organic virality.
“Archaic humans paid for their large brains in two ways. Firstly, they spent more time in search of food. Secondly, their muscles atrophied. Like a government diverting money from defence to education, humans diverted energy from biceps to neurons. It’s hardly a foregone conclusion that this is a good strategy for survival on the savannah. A chimpanzee can’t win an argument with a Homo sapiens, but the ape can rip the man apart like a rag doll.”
- Yuval Hoah Harari
Humans already improved the process of eating food and even though it was something normal, it was time to try something new. But why? Remember, survival and curiosity drive humans to test new stuff. So now they found out a new way of getting it: Agriculture, invented around 10,000 years ago, allowed to scale up human life by organizing and specializing people to produce food for bigger groups. Now humans were able to predict the required effort to sustain a group and save even more time to develop other cool skills. This experiment also opened new ways of interaction between different groups of people. Now trading was an option: Farm A is an expert in rice while Farm B were the suppliers of fruits and vegetables. The Growth Loop and Hooked Model were rapidly used in this step and you can guess how was each stage of the process.
Do all tests have positive results?
Was agriculture a good growth experiment? Yes and No. It was a fast test, like most growth tests. Also, it was not a problem before 20th century, when Norman Borlaug, known as the father of the Green Revolution, contributed as an agronomist by increasing cereal crop yields in developing countries during the 1960s. He used new plant varieties which fully utilized improved fertilizers and other new agrochemicals that were created during this period. Improved irrigation and crop management techniques gave dramatic increases in yield. Even though he saved a lot of people from starvation, this game changer event made humans explode the soil no matter what the consequences were. Now, the quality of soil has been reduced and it’s a shame because it is one of the keys to defeat climate change (Watch Kiss the Grounds on Netflix). But that is how growth works. It is not perfect. You try something, accept or reject your hypothesis. Move on. If something goes wrong, you propose a new solution and guess what: you test.
In conclusion, after all this year, we grew our population size and mastered scientific skills -but not necessarily our soft ones- by testing and working in teams. These steps were thanks to our natural advantages of skills transferring and cooperation. Characteristics that allowed us to have more control. Now the question is: Which is going to be the next experiment? The only way to follow sustainable experiments in society (or in a company for example) is by working together, having a solid vision and aligning priorities. So, whenever you have to do some growth experiments for your company or Startup, don’t be overwhelmed about the outcome, remember that our ancestors didn’t know what they were doing or where they were going to be in the next thousands of years. They weren’t sure if they were going to survive the following week. Only be sure you have the correct vision and then go step by step testing your cool ideas. Make your own way to your goal.
By Nicolás Godoy Usón.
Data-driven Engineer passionate about Product Strategy and Growth Marketing.
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