The first men and women (Homo erectus) appeared in Africa some 2.5 million years ago. About 2 million years ago, some of these early humans journeyed and settled in the snowy foothills of Europe and Asia. There they adapted into more muscular and thicker set northerners (Neanderthalensis). Those who remained in the southern hemisphere became thinner, smarter and more agile. They eventually evolved to become our species (Sapiens). 

Fred is the name I affectionately to the Neanderthal species. During my conference talks on strategy, I sometimes produce a life-sized replica of a Neanderthal skull and introduce audiences to ‘my old mate Fred.’ I then share the final chapter of Fred’s journey. Fred’s story ends tragically. Some 50,000 years ago, as resources became scarce, Fred and his kinsfolk were eventually eradicated by tribes of Sapiens who were heading northwards and spreading across the Earth.

The success of the Sapiens and the failure of the Neanderthals offer us some important lessons, which we can apply to the competitive and co-operative world of business. Sapien brains differ from Neanderthal brains in the size and shape their skulls. A Neanderthal skull is elongated and flat. A Sapien skull is shorter from front to back and has a higher and larger forehead. This difference meant that proportionally, Fred had more room in his skull for his hindbrain, which accommodated both his parietal and occipital lobes, and less room inside his head for his midbrain, which housed his cerebellum and basal ganglia. Fred’s small forehead meant that he had even less room for his frontal cortexes.

Fred’s large hindbrain offered him excellent night vision and a heightened sensitivity to changes in his immediate environment. Indeed, thanks to his large hindbrain, Fred’s ability to sense and see was superior to ours. When southern tribes of Sapiens invaded, it is likely that Fred saw and sensed their presence first. This ability to sense and see is useful in life and in business. Sensing and seeing are the first two steps of the six-step strategic mindset process.

By contrast, Fred’s smaller frontal cortex and smaller midbrain placed him at a disadvantage, once we Sapiens spotted him. With larger forebrains, our ability to connect with one another and plan was superior. We were able to coordinate our efforts and plan our attacks, with greater ease and success than Fred. Connecting and planning are the third and fourth steps of the six-step strategic mindset process. 

Finally, our larger midbrains allowed us to focus and move more effectively and efficiently in the world. At night time, Fred could survive better, but when day broke, Fred was easy prey. When compared with Fred, our ability to focus and move is something we also did better. Focusing and moving are the fifth and sixth steps of the strategic mindset process. In the end, Fred’s brain let him down. He could sense and see well, but he was unable to connect, plan, focus and move fast enough. To survive and thrive in business, leaders need to be proficient at all six steps.

The Strategic Mindset Process

Step 1. Sensing the environment

Step 2. See beyond the next horizon

Step 3. Connect with customers and stakeholders

Step 4. Plan future value chains, creations and curves

Step 5. Focus on a chosen target

Step 6. Move faster with influence