March 2006 | Commentary | Checking In

Lessons From the Neanderthals

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What do global trade, cavemen, and a TV commercial have in common? Stay with me. Did you catch the FedEx ad about a caveman using Brand X Pterosaur to ship an important stick? Instant classic! The commercial humorously shows that good transportation was as important then as it is now.

Oddly enough, new research by a group of U.S. and Dutch economists makes a similar point. The ability of early humans (homo sapiens) to trade was one key reason why physically stronger contemporaries—the Neanderthals—were made extinct.

The research suggests a superior trade-based economy allowed humans to allocate labor to specific tasks such as hunting and gathering, and tool and clothing manufacturing, thereby creating a closed loop where individuals could exchange goods among themselves—a Middle Paleolithic supply chain. Early man's collaborative approach to trade enabled them to more efficiently fend for food and resources, and create a sustainable livelihood.

Neanderthals, on the other hand, did not tie sticks or clubs to flying dinosaurs as the commercial shows; they simply did not trade. The message is as clear today as it was then: embrace trade or risk extinction.

World-class businesses get the message and are transforming their foraging strategies to be more intuitive. Greater supply chain collaboration allows enterprises to share necessary information with their extended partners seamlessly and in real time so that they can circumvent obstacles when they occur. Collaboration also helps them make better decisions about where to source product or locate offshore manufacturing activities.

While the survival of today's global race no longer hangs in the trade balance, the survival of global enterprises lies in their capacity to adapt supply chain strategies to changing trade winds and create more reliable and resilient pipelines.

Like early trade, logisticians and supply chain professionals have the tools and resources, thanks to innovative communication technologies and enterprising 3PLs and carriers, to facilitate change, transform their go-to-market strategies, and create flexible options for sourcing and distributing product around the world.

The challenge is ever-changing and daunting, which is why we offer our annual Global Logistics Guide, a resource to help you identify countries that are allocating capital and resources to create a more seamless environment for distributing cargo. Some countries have taken a proactive approach to finding innovative transportation solutions and investing in infrastructure, people, and technology to drive their economies. Others take the Neanderthal approach.

Countries or companies that show leadership in this area will stand on the right side of history. Those taking a Neanderthal, wait-and-see approach may find themselves struggling to survive among outcasts.

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