The Evolution of Productive Organizations

Francisco Brahm (London Business School)
Joaquin Poblete (Pontifical Catholic University of Chile)

Abstract: We develop a cultural evolution model that illuminates the evolution of productive organizations, such as partnerships, guilds and modern corporations. The basic insight provided by the model is that productive organizations evolved because they favored the difficult-to-propel process of cumulative culture by virtue of being exclusive and facilitating social learning. Productive organizations make social learning and culture useful to society, playing a fundamental role in the adaptive success of the human species. The model also illuminates issues regarding adaptation and rigidity, the locus of innovation, secrecy and the origins of specialization. We test the model using a sample of pre-modern societies drawn from the Ethnographic Atlas. The empirical analysis provides supporting evidence for our predictions.

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