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What Businesses Can Learn From the Collapse of Civilizations

Odd Lots

16:34 min | 4 years ago

What Businesses Can Learn From the Collapse of Civilizations

"Tracy. do you remember the episode that we did was not long. After after the two thousand sixteen election at the time and maybe still is one of our biggest most popular lots ever. Oh It's definitely one of my personal favorites and it was one of the earliest odd lots episodes as well right. I guess maybe at the time being the biggest at the time is not saying as much but nonetheless it was very popular we talked to an archaeologist about civilizational collapse right not just any archaeologists though one who has been called at various times the Real Life Indiana Jones right so I was like right after the election and of course like half the country was really freak out you know have the contrary probably thrilled. They have the country that was really freaking out was very interested in this idea like what is the end of civilization looks like look like because because maybe that's what we're seeing now right and so we brought on an expert a literal expert in the end or collapses of civilizations right and so very all the ominous signs. We walked through it. He's an expert on the collaborative the Mayans and you know what parallels if any there are between then and what we're seeing in modern society in the US that's right well. We haven't back that. It's very exciting exactly so we are once again talking about collapse ups and ancient civilizations but our guest this time he's been doing more work lately specifically on like parallels to kind of the business world and sort of taking theories from management and economics and applying them to see what parallels between that and again the what causes an organization to collapse so I find this really interesting because at the moment in particular you have a lot of hand wringing over what's going on with the big tech firms and of course for technology culture is such an embedded aspect of a tech firm and so people are talking about whether or not those tech firms arms are maybe not going to collapse. Although I guess you know there's a question mark over things like we work but whether or not they're heading for hard times and how that culture her is feeding into that in even if you don't get outright collapse like this idea of sort of endemic cultural problems that lead to rot I think is a really important phenomenon across all kinds of businesses beyond tech like just think about banks and or think about a bank like wells fargo that has headed numerous fines and scandals handles over the years despite the best ever to management to root out all that stuff it should extraordinarily difficult it seems to undo the rot that can form inside a complex organization right so how does that culture how does that organizational structure within a company actually impacted business and how does it change over time and what can we learn from the Mayans to preserve the robustness of companies all right so without further ado we wanNA bring back for a repeat performance on odd lots of Arthur demerist. He's the Ingraham professor of anthropology director at Vanderbilt Institute of Mesoamerican Archaeology Arthur. Thank you very much for joining us. Hi Oh yeah I'm. I'm happy to be on here. You know this is an audience that I think matters so. It's it's good to be on here. I have one quick correction though the collapse stuff it's got little with trump. I've been doing this since eighty nine and it's it's been building lowly and then in the last ten years all of a sudden. I'm in great demand everywhere to give talks so right I didn't that you just started jumping on the collapsed bandwagon. I do think that helped explain the interest at least that there I think it's the stuff that I worry worry about is more serious as the information technology people and business people and of course the global warming issue issue and but there's really I was surprised that's one reason why I'm doing this that the interest was was coming from beyond academics and from people who can actually make a difference and so I sort of shifted over to communicating on in these kind of venues and then I learned that business the strategic management theory partnership theory these things work really well on looking at ancient civilizations ends and so you know me and my collaborators who one of them is an expert in strategic management. I became a feedback cycle. You know where we're a providing information. We're trying to we have articles submitted to business journals and on the other hand we're using that for my archaeology journals right who try to explain collapse although I'm getting some flack on that so great businesses bad. It's evil capitalists like you guys so thanks so Arthur maybe just to begin with. Can you walk us through the parallels between a society like the Mayan civilization and what we see in business today a while well I will. That's my that's a book but AH civilizations people don't think they sorta like a bunch of people who kind of do the same things civilizations at their core networks. They're primarily political and economic omic networks because the ideas and the region the idiot that's tradition that continues even after collapsed so on but their networks and the political and economic mkx networks or you know as today are always almost inseparable so you start to look at why whole networks can collapsed and then how responses are because most collapses don't happen the governments corporations whatever their problem problem solving institution so there are responses and you can see which ones succeed or fail and of course that leads right into the kind of theory that everyone is doing in management strategic management investment. I mean you guys are in the channel in the prediction business business which is what I'm kind of into so a lot of that applies a lot of the same thing partnership network where using it to explain the relationships between cities economically and trade and politics and then ways in which those go bad and you have basically Lebed the equivalent of bankruptcies before we get into like I want to like really sort of a pull on some of these read sier and the similarities and how you can use management theory theory to understand archaeology and vice versa but before we dive down into that Tracy mentioned in the intro that people call you the real life Indiana Jones and so just to set the scene a little bit more like you're a real archaeologist in terms of what people have in their heads or you go to some remote location and you squat down down a lot and you dig up dirt and you look at stuff probably mostly pottery and things like that. I'm guessing just talked to us about what you've been up to a little bit in terms of your day to day life since the last time you appeared on the show. Well you know what I the Indiana Jones thing. I don't mind it. I used to not like it. I was told that once by Harrison Ford and that I discovered that it's good for business you guys know about that. It'd be so flattered if Harrison Ford Comey Indiana John's yeah. I'm sorry it helps to get the port but I do exploratory archaeology. I accidentally started working during the civil war in El Salvador as a graduate student and because very few people crazy I ended up being one of two archaeologists and then finally just one one and I had a whole kind of country to myself that was not much explored and I discovered it led to a very accelerated career and so ever since then I actually go to those areas where nothing's been done before or very little and I do explor- exploration ration- and then we do large scale multidisciplinary projects and that's the part. That's not like the Indiana Jones thing I mean you don't like you know read the gifts and kiss the girl grown shooting guns and all that I mean it's always and ninety percent of ninety but I'd say sixty percent of his lab work but we study ancient cities and right now so my entire project for the last twenty years is studying an ancient economic network that holds together and we're following. I mean we're literally. The research design is we do neutron activation other analyses. We discover that pottery jade or obsidian volcanic glass is coming coming from another place so we go and dig that place and then we dig we see about that. We saw we've we've actually covered thousand square kilometers but it isn't just the usual region or we are following an economic an economic network so there's I mean we do have we do dig lost cities in the jungle and we do have shoot outs with the bad guys and open terms and all that but that's just you know that's just what you have to do to get started then it becomes essentially the study of economy politics and sociology. IOS y'all of of cities and regions and networks as that works gotten bigger. It's gotten more and more parallel to contemporary the economic networks and multinational corporations so talk to us about what you've discovered because you know I remember a little bit from the previous previous episode but the Mayan Civilization was quite unique in in many ways and I remember you were talking about how they developed. A big trade network where goods were distributed attributed all over the jungle. What does that have to do with modern corporations or the modern economy well in again academic damage there. There's an I've learned that there's a great range of business theory and academic strategic management theory and so on is is probably a a little different but they're break their studies then lead to you know. CFO's reading about it and lead to something else but one of the things that they've been talking about for a long time it's just an example community networks which would be like the EU or even the Western economy where you have partnerships ships that are based on multiple partners. They have an ideology that they develop and business practices have to be within a range of legitimation. Shen and all of that and those kinds of community networks are very tight. One is what was developing in the jungle between all these different cities and then it stabilized and there was great wealth but just as today when when you read the journals about innovation network those are very profitable affordable but that kind of slows and they have a tendency to fall behind so then you have some firms or in this case city eighty states that make breakaway networks which are very high risk It's very much like the initial trading with with China. You know which is a very high risk but very profitable it. There's high high games but there's a high risk for seeing right now. In dealing with cultures societies economic systems that have a different ethic they'd have a different economic culture and reading about that that is exactly exactly what happened with this great city state conquest they were they were the big center for trade up city and all sorts of things coming from the highlands the Maya Economic Network that was so successful this community network all interacting with each other very stable started order to have a lot of problems and the rulers and the nobles of the city farther south made a decision to kind of turn away and it was very surprising I mean in terms of today it would be like China and given transport more and they started trading with long distance partners in other areas forming warming. You know initially. It's like die attic relationships that they say that it's just you know one city with another city. It doesn't have the stability of a multi partner network doc they were they in forty years they just boomed into this incredibly wealthy center and there was this giant like Venice this giant got purely commercial non non territorial kingdom and it then crashed and the whole story is just just just just like stuff out of you you journal so Arthur. How did how did Konkan managed to sort of differentiate itself from the rest of the mind civilization because often when when people think about big companies big multinationals. There's a lot of conformity there and there's a sort of Oregon organizational structure that encourages I guess cohesiveness piece of Ness. You're not necessarily rewarded for taking a risk and going off and doing something completely different. Conformity tends to be rewarded. So how did this particular city city managed to break away well again. This is where this is where the theories coming from a management schools really help you know there's institutional entrepreneurship where Oh you have entrepreneurship but it changes it changes the game playing a different game and that's one thing people don't realize it is very high risk and these these rulers were not stupid. You know they would make these innovations and scary part about responding to collapse is that they would do the right thing but but it would usually fail because of this legitimacy because both the consumers and the other firms. Let's say would would not buy into it. Give me what's an example okay so when you say they did the right thing when confronted with the risk of collapse but it but it didn't work it failed what specifically given given example of okay. Here's give an example of what you're talking about. Well I again. You know there's I'm just written something on four gift front. Using strategic man with my colleague I collaborate with a an endowed chair in Strategic Management Management and and conquest in for example. I can tell you about four four other states we just wrote on this but in Quinn but decision was to first shift away in terms of their trading partners and what happens when you have throughout history when you have new trading partners there's these risks and stuff but new ideas come in not just products but new ideas about structuring your own economic economic system and when my of conquest started trading with Mexican states that were far away and had a more market oriented economy every time they added a new trading partner the structure and Economic System at Colin Quinn changed and one of the things is this vertical integration. They were shipping stuff out you know in and out they were import export then they started instead processing it for stage processing which of course increases the value and then there was shipping it out semi-processed and then later later they started whole new industries in the production of jade and again preliminary stage not the final product talked about sort of free forms and and they did it. They started doing mass production. I mean just you the largest jade workshop ever found in the Americas and so you see these business ideas coming in and again this study's business architecture you see it in everything you see the palace changing from a great royal residence over forty years as eight reconstructions to a giant almost.

Indiana Jones Arthur Demerist Indiana Tracy. Partner Harrison Ford United States Strategic Management Managemen Colin Quinn Maya Economic Network China Vanderbilt Institute Of Mesoam Structure And Economic System Americas Ingraham Professor Of Anthropo EU