Humanity, like all other species of Earth before and with us, is evolving — and evolution, for humans as for all species, is neither predictably linear nor solely Darwinian. Earth’s nearly four billion years of evolutionary experience reveals reliable patterns that give us hope, inspiration and valuable guidance for getting ourselves through the unprecedented confluence of enormous crises in which we humans quite suddenly find ourselves. Here we see the evolutionary Big Picture, including the amazingly complex lives of our remotest bacterial ancestors, who had Earth to themselves for fully half of evolution, and much of whose experience we seem to be mirroring now. They engaged in hostilities, generated global crises of hunger and pollution as great as ours today, and solved them without benefit of brain! Along the way they invented electric motors, atomic piles and the first World Wide Web of DNA exchange; then, in the greatest of all evolutionary ventures, formed cooperatives that became nucleated cells. These cooperatives were the basis for the evolution of our own hundred-trillion-celled human bodies, which role model amazingly sustainable economies. Learning from newly revealed problems and solutions in biological evolution, we too are finding out how to survive and even thrive into a better future despite — perhaps because of — our greatest challenges. That would indeed be cause for celebration.
As an evolution biologist, it is obvious to me that we humans are part of Nature and that Nature has been doing business for billions of years, if we take a broad definition of business to be the economy of making a living, of transforming resources into useful products that are exchanged, distributed, consumed, and/or recycled. So, to talk about the biology of human businesses, I could simply point out that all our businesses are systems made up of people, who are living beings, and that therefore businesses are living systems or biological entities. However, to say something more useful I need to go back through history to show why most human businesses, despite being made up of people, do not function like living systems, at least not like healthy living systems. Those few that do are swimming upstream against the norm, usually with great difficulty, and that just should not be, need not be, and must not continue to be.
Our businesses, unlike those of other species, are organized and run in a socio-political cultural context, and that context has a history. Historical context has a great deal to do with what we believe about ourselves and our world, and when I sort through that socio-political history looking for the most salient influences on contemporary business from my own perspective, I am naturally drawn to the history of science.