Please enter your keyword:

Sign up to our newsletter

The Remarkable History Of Human Adaptability

October 18, 2018 Nicole Lyons

Anthropology is the study of human cultures and societies. It looks at all the factors that make us human. The beginnings of our story stretch back millions of years in time, and anthropology seeks to unravel the long-hidden mysteries of human existence in an attempt to explain the past so that we can better understand the future.

The About My Brain Institute - The Remarkable History Of Human Adaptability

Unless it’s your field of study or a hobby project, most people likely have a fuzzy understanding of what anthropology encompasses. Scientists look to answer questions about humanity, including:

  • When did humans develop verbal languages? Written languages?
  • Do all societies organise themselves in the same way? Is marriage (or some version) typically present?
  • Are most humans “good”? Are some humans inherently “evil”?
  • Is the human brain still evolving?
  • How has technology shaped the values of human beings? Or ideas of socialism, fascism, or capitalism?
  • Fortunately, our ancestors exhibited agility and the ability to change (sometimes rapidly) to conditions around them. Imagine how the world was when we actually had to run away from predators and depend on the next hunt for survival.


Our brains are plastic, which means they can change throughout our lives. You can “teach an old dog new tricks” because the brain allows new connections to form between neurons. This plasticity likely served early humans well, allowing them to rapidly learn and adjust to their environments.

Even more interesting, our brains as a species seem to be continuing to evolve. A gene called Microcephalin regulates brain size, and the modern version of the gene arose around 37,000 years ago at a very rapid frequency. The spread of this gene occurred faster than can be explained with neutral drift, indicating strong positive selection.1


Taking risks is part of being a human being. Everything we do is a calculated risk, from getting into the car, taking a new job, or deciding to adopt a puppy. For leaders, risks may include marching to your own drum or going with a gut instinct.  

“To create an organization that’s adaptable and innovative, people need the freedom to challenge precedent, to ‘waste’ time, to go outside of channels, to experiment, to take risks and to follow their passions.”

 Gary Hamel

Our world is continuously changing, which brings us new technologies, scientific advances, and incredible art and literature. We must all adapt faster than ever, and the demands on our personal and professional lives can be overwhelming, negatively impacting our conduct with others and the decisions we make.

To effectively navigate constantly shifting conditions, we must become lifelong learners. Instead of floundering around, desperately trying to keep up with the flow, we should develop our abilities and create a vision for the future.2


Learning about anthropology is important for everyone because it is our history. But more than that, anthropology gives us clues about our future. Consider these books to broaden your mind and delve into the fascinating world of anthropology.

  • A Primate’s Memoir: A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons: Written by Robert M. Sapolsky, he tells the story spanning twenty-one years of his time in Kenya living with a troop of baboons. It will make you laugh and cry as you learn about the challenges for man and beast living in the Serengeti.
  • One River: Written by Wade Davis, this is the story of two generations of explorers in South America. Inspired by his professor, Richard Even Schultes, Davis explores a mystical land seeking to unravel the secrets of coca, known to the Inca as the Divine Leaf of Immortality.
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies: Written by Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel reviews human history since the Ice Age and attempts to explain gaps in power and technology in different human societies.

Leaders today are expected to exhibit great agility and adaptability. Learning about new ideas and thoughts, even from the past, can help us better understand our potential.

Challenge your Adaptability  Ever wondered how to be more adaptable than what you are today? New advances  from different scientific fields are helping us better understand how our  brains and bodies function and the incredible impact they have on the way we  lead.  Learn how our i4 Neuroleader Program can help develop your personal leadership. Download Program Guide

1. Evans PD, Gilbert SL, Mekal-Bobrov N, Vallender EJ, Anderson JR, Vaez-Azizi LM, Tishkoff SA, Hudson RR, Lahn BT. Microcephalin, a gene regulating brain size, continues to evolve adaptively in humans. Science. 2005;309(5741):1717-20).
2. Damiano, S. Wellbeing Strategies for Optimal Brain & Body Performance: Inspired by the Documentary Make Me A Leader. About my Brain Institute. 2018.

Nicole Lyons

Nicole Lyons

Nicole is the About my Brain Institute's researcher and blogger. As a writer and science educator she is passionate about sharing scientific knowledge to refute ignorance and misconceptions. Nicole is also a devoted wife and mother to three children, two cats, a dog and frog.