Lessons on Evolution, Empathy and Running a Business

Posted June 18, 2020 by Keith Seiz

I just finished reading the book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s a great book that forces you to think about humans’ existence on earth and how we’ve evolved over time. One passage in the beginning of the book had a particularly profound impact on me.

“Just six million years ago, a single female ape had two daughters. One became the ancestor of all chimpanzees, the other is our own grandmother.”

Just like that. Humans evolved into being. No big ceremony or pomp and circumstance. We just started being. Reading this book made me think quite a bit about evolution’s role in the human experience, as well as my own personal and professional evolution in my 43 years of life.

Surprisingly, my personal evolution only has one key progression that happened rather recently. I was raised in a loving environment with parents that instilled in me a moral compass that has never wavered or changed course. Growing up in an environment like this gave me a huge advantage in life, but I really didn’t see it until about four years ago when I truly started to understand the value of empathy.

It’s not like I was a self-centered asshole for those first 38 years of my life, but I did wrongly believe that everyone was on a level playing field. I wrongly believed that my good fortune and successes in life were achieved simply because I put in the hard work. It took me leaving the company I helped start to understand how little empathy I had and how much work I needed to do.

Learning the true essence of empathy has changed my perspective on life. I enjoy nature more, I understand the value of listening and I don’t rush to judgement as much as I used to. I have a thirst for knowledge in areas I was never interested in before. Physics, mathematics, genetics and evolutionary biology are all on my reading list. I’ve changed my political leanings 180 degrees, as well as how I view government’s role in society.

It also changed how my business partner, Jonathan, and I run Brightly Creative. In our first go around, we were laser focused on making it work, which it did, and then making a profit, which it also did. This dedication came at the expense of every other aspect of running a company. Employees were treated like disposable units and in my 10-year tenure, I’m not sure if I ever had a real conversation with anyone I worked with. I only had time for work.

I’m glad I was given a second chance to run a company, and I feel I’m doing it right this time. I’m not the perfect boss or business partner, but I’m getting better. I truly care about my team, not just for their ability to produce quality work, but also for their experiences as humans. Although we all live in different parts of the country, we always used to see each other at events throughout the year. With everything cancelled, we recently started having a happy hour. After each one, Jonathan and I talk about how we love our team and everyone’s unique contributions and personal stories.

Myself 10 years ago would have dreaded the notion of taking an hour during the work day to wear silly hats and talk about life with my coworkers. I embrace it now and it’s made me a better human.

If you got this far, you may be wondering what’s the purpose of this blog. I guess it’s my rambling way to encourage everyone to embrace their own evolution. Don’t be afraid to change. Digging into your belief system like you’re ready to do battle is no way to advance yourself or the human race. Instead, listen and think.

I recently attended a Black Lives Matter protest for George Floyd in my hometown of Edwardsville, Illinois, where I spotted a sign that said: “We don’t need believers, we need thinkers.” It was a personal spin on Ibram X. Kendi’s quote “Racist ideas love believers, not thinkers.”

Similar to the book passage at the beginning of this blog, the sign had a profound impact on me. It expressed in few words what I’ve been rambling about this whole blog. Once I stopped believing I knew what was right and started thinking about the experiences and realities of others, I evolved. I learned the value of empathy.

It can still be a challenge and I’m not perfect with my practice, but I’m on the right track. It’s made me a better person and I feel, it’s made Brightly Creative a better business.

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