Monkey Business: The Value of Teaching

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Spear-Hunting Chimps | Animal CognitionMonkey see, monkey do … Turns out that’s about all they do. The intelligence of apes and monkeys are unmatched throughout the animal kingdom and at their pinnacle — we now as humans — reign supreme. Our closest ancestor alive today is the chimpanzee, yet despite the fact they share 98% of their DNA with us, they have yet to leave the jungles on their own, while we as humans are on our way to Mars thanks to Tesla and the scientists backing them. So, how could this happen? Why is it in the same amount of time humans and chimps have been on the planet, with all the brain power we share, why have we been the only ones to make leaps in technological development?

The truth is we are not the only animals that make technology. Chimps and other animals have been known to use and make tools for themselves, a very smart thing to do that they can’t seem to realize the full potential of.  Unlike us humans, they don’t maintain the technological thought that go into making tools. Archaeologists have uncovered what they believe to be ancient chimp settlements, where they see remnants of tools of their own time have been forgotten and rediscovered time and time again. Such tools are rudimentary, no more than honed rocks and sticks used to crush nuts or hunt bushbabies, but even still they become forgotten and rediscovered over and over again.

Why this happens is quite simple, chimps do not teach each other. Nova recently covered the concept in a documentary series called Ape Genius. Apes are fantastic learners; they mimic each other as much as they mimic us. They solve problems and power through adversity as we do through brain power. They communicate in languages among themselves and can even be taught sign language from us; but you will never see them teach it to another ape.

There has never been a recorded incident where a chimp sat down another chimp with the explicit intent of teaching them. A mother may smash nuts with a rock while her baby hangs on her back and the baby will learn by seeing, but she’s not trying to teach them. A group of hunters may shriek in excitement when they’ve cornered a macaque, but they don’t tell each other how to approach it. They may figure out how to make tools and weapons to solve the difficulty they’re having, but others doing the same comes from the observers own actions. They either figured out how to make the tool themselves or saw another make it. Unlike us, we they do not explicitly pass ideas from one another.

It is a strange and unusual nuance most never consider, especially when it comes to our own interests in business and team building. Everyone wants the strongest, smartest, most capable person to be a part of their team, but the value of communicating ideas too often falls to the wayside. A team of the best individuals means nothing if ideas aren’t reaching one another, and no team can hope to develop and grow if they don’t take the time to sit each other down to teach what does work and what doesn’t work.

At Venture Up, our Strategic Games ensure this niche aspect is satisfied. While Strategic Games as a whole cover the value of teaching within teams, The Maze game we offer presses the most focus on it (Seen in play by a Houston group below). The group is split into smaller teams and each are tasked with the same goal, to construct the maze as soon as possible and come up with the best strategy for doing so. Naturally, all succeed in making the maze, but where teams differ is how it is constructed. The message to be learned in it, is that teams’ representatives will be allowed to observe other teams and share what they learned to their own team. Through this dynamic, they not only learn the value of diverse thought, but more importantly, the value of conveying what they learned to others.

It is our willingness to teach others what we have learned that allowed us humans to become advanced enough to span the globe while the chimps have been stuck where they’ve always been for millennia. It’s not because they’re stupid and humans are smart, we can send a chimpanzee into space and he’ll come back in one piece of his own accord, but because they never consider teaching others, they do not grow as species. The same can be said for people, as we ourselves are often victim to the same pitfall. We assume the other of us knows what we know and so neglect them. One person may have a solution they are hesitant to share for fear of ridicule. Some of us may be sitting on the best solution for a problem and simply don’t think its worth sharing. The truth is communicating ideas is everything, so at the next meeting, sit each other down and say what you have to say.