Cultural Evolution in Business
A Project of the Collins Educational Foundation
Business and Sustainability Program


Why Socially Responsible Businesses Prosper and Related Puzzles
A Collins Educational Foundation Project

Project Research Publications and Papers

Project Staff Bios

Project Overview
The objective of this project is to help leaders of businesses and other organizations make strategic, tactical, and operational decisions based on sound science. Using the theory of gene-culture coevolution as a tool, we provide a framework within which executives can understand the processes by which human social psychology evolved in the remote past and corporate cultures evolve to accomplish their objectives in the present. Evolutionary tools provide a way to examine the processes of socioeconomic change and the phenomenon of human cooperation. These topics are of fundamental importance for organizational management, yet the heretofore most powerful theory of human behavior—rational choice theory from neoclassical economics—treats them poorly. The evolutionary theory explains why human nature is the complex mixture of cooperation, selfishness and conflict that we observe in the laboratory and in real life. The cooperative element of human nature generates a moral hidden hand that is the main motor for the evolution of the cultural rules that we actually use to operate complex human organizations. The management of organizations is mainly a matter of ensuring that the moral hidden hand functions in the face of individual selfishness and organizational complexities that tend to frustrate its action. Businesses, and similar mid-sized human organizations, are superorganisms that are similar in some important ways to the tribes in which our ancestors lived. Humans are adapted to live in tribes. Business organizations that mimic tribes, but at the same time creatively work around their limitations, function best.

One of the most important results of the theory of cultural evolution and related empirical work is the support that it provides for the concept of socially responsible business. Contrary to rational choice theory, evolutionary investigations suggest that profits should be positively, not negatively, correlated with social responsibility and environmental friendliness. Emerging evidence from the study of socially responsible businesses finds that they do indeed perform better financially than businesses that make no special effort to be responsible to these non-traditional bottom lines. We review the emerging science and draw from it seven applied principles, each generating several socially responsible strategies managers can use to improve the performance of their organizations.

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Cultural Evolution in Business project staff:

Peter J. Richerson, Ph.D.
Dwight E. Collins, Ph.D.
Russell M. Genet, Ph.D.

Biographies of project staff:

Peter J. Richerson, Ph.D.
– Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California at Davis. Dr. Richerson is one of the major figures in the development of the theory of cultural evolution. His first book with Robert Boyd in 1985, Culture and the Evolutionary Process, is a classic in the field. Richerson and Boyd were awarded the Staley Prize by the School of American Research for a major contribution to the human sciences in 1989. Richerson and Boyd have also written Not By Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution (University of Chicago Press, 2005), an accessible introduction to the field and The Origin and Evolution of Cultures (Oxford University Press, 2005), an anthology of their collective work. Dr. Richerson is the author of over 200 journal articles, book chapters, book reviews, and technical reports. He is former president of the Society for Human Ecology and former treasurer of the Society for Human Behavior and Evolution, and he has organized the annual meetings of both societies. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a visiting professor at the University of California—Berkeley, Duke University, the University of Bielefeld (Germany), and Exeter University (England). He has given invited talks to scholarly audiences around the globe. The National Science Foundation currently supports his work on cultural evolution. Trained as an aquatic ecologist, he has also conducted National Science Foundation and Environmental Protection Agency-funded research on the ecology of lakes. Further information can be found at his UC Davis webpage.

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Dwight E. Collins, Ph.D. – President and Founder of the Collins Educational Foundation
Dwight Collins teaches Operations Management and Industrial Ecology at the Presidio Graduate School, San Francisco, and is a founding instructor and Chair of the Presidio's MBA program.  He directs the Collins Educational Foundation, which has as its goal contributing to and providing leadership in creating a sustainable human presence on Earth. The Foundation organizes retreats and conferences, e.g., Profitable Sustainability: The Future of Business, co-sponsored with the Seattle based Network for Business Innovation and Sustainability (NBIS) and Future 500. Dr. Collins is a member of INFORMS (Institute for Operations Research and Management Science), the INFORMS Practice Section Advisory Council, and the INFORMS Roundtable. He held positions as Director of Aspen Technology’s Strategic Planning Practice, Director of the Semiconductor Industry Practice at Chesapeake Decision Sciences, Inc., Senior Project Manager at Exxon Corporation, Senior Consultant at the Logistics Management Institute (LMI) (a Washington, D.C. think tank), and was a captain in the US Air Force.
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Russell M. Genet, Ph.D.– Research Scholar in Residence at California Polytechnic State University and an Adjunct Professor of Astronomy at Cuesta College, both in San Luis Obispo. Dr. Genet is also a cosmic evolutionist, a field which seeks the grand synthesis of physical, biological, and cultural evolution. His 1997 book The Chimpanzees Who Would Be Ants (published by the Collins Foundation Press explored humanity’s place in the cosmos, our biological and cultural evolution, and four potential futures.  Dr. Genet developed rocket guidance systems in the early days of the space age and worked with Dr. Collins in the 1970s, developing the first life cycle cost models of major systems. He is the co-founder of the Fairborn Observatory (1979) and pioneered in the development of robotic telescopes and remote mountaintop automated systems. His work on robotic telescopes was featured in a one-hour PBS documentary, The Perfect Stargazer. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on astronomy, robotics, and cosmic evolution.

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Project Related Publications and Papers