The evolution of productive organizations

Brahm, F and Poblete, J (2021) The evolution of productive organizations. Nature Human Behaviour, 2021 (5). pp. 39-48. ISSN 2397-3374 OPEN ACCESS


Organizations devoted to the production of goods and services, such as guilds, partnerships and modern corporations, have dominated the economic landscape in our species’ history. We develop an explanation for their evolution drawing from cultural evolution theory. A basic tenet of this theory is that social learning, under certain conditions, allows for the diffusion of innovations in society, and therefore, the accumulation of culture. Our model shows that these organizations provide such conditions by possessing two characteristics, both prevalent in real world organizations: exclusivity of membership and more effective social learning within their boundaries. The model and its extensions parsimoniously explains the cooperative nature of the social learning advantage, organizational specialization, organizational rigidity and the locus of innovation. We find supportive evidence for our predictions using a sample of pre-modern societies drawn from the Ethnographic Atlas. Understanding the nature of these organizations informs the debate about their role in society.

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Item Type: Article
Subject Areas: Strategy and Entrepreneurship
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© 2020 The Authors

Funder Name: National Agency for Research and Development of Chile, Instituto Milenio
Date Deposited: 29 Sep 2020 08:25
Date of first compliant deposit: 28 Sep 2020
Subjects: Production development
Social anthropology
Organisational development
Last Modified: 14 Apr 2024 01:39
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