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Hitachi Social Innovation Forum 2017 TOKYO

Special Speech

November 2 (Thu) 9:30-10:30

Four Solutions We Can Learn from Traditional Tribal Societies-
Making Use of Elders, Social Skills, Settling Disputes, and Assessing Danger

Bridging the Tradition with the Future
-Suggestions for the Modern Societies-

Dr. Jared Diamond
Pulitzer Prize Winning Author and Scientist,
Author of "Guns, Germs, and Steel"

Venue photo

Venue photo
Dr. Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize Winning Author and Scientist

Venue photo
Dr. Diamond explains traditional tribal societies

Dr. Jared Diamond, who has just completed his fieldwork in New Guinea, kicked off his speech with a humorous joke that also highlighted the difference between modern societies and traditional tribal societies, saying, "At the time I began my research, the typical engagement gift was 4 pigs, but my friend's wife was a university graduate, so he had to pay 250 pigs. Now that's a really expensive wife!"
Dr. Diamond pointed out that human societies have existed in as traditional tribal societies, and modern societies have only been around for the past 10,000 years or so.
He says, "There are many things that we take for granted as normal but they are actually new in human history."

There is less face-to-face communication in the modern world and more indirect communication, such as by writing. In traditional tribal societies, you would grow up and live with the same people throughout your life and be highly unlikely to meet anyone you don't know. He explained that it would be dangerous for New Guineans to meet with strangers as strangers are considered to be coming to steal land or property in New Guinea.
He joked, "I met Hitachi's President Higashihara for the first time yesterday, but I was not frightened. I didn't try to steal President Higashihara's pigs, and he didn't try to steal my pigs, either."

Dr. Diamond then related, while traditional societies have either slow or no technological change, all traditional societies are similar to each other and also are very varied.
"Even in only the New Guinea Islands are there 1000 different tribes that speak 1000 different languages, constituting one thousand different experiments, each with one thousand different ways of bringing up children and health preservation methods."

He next introduced four solutions that we can learn from traditional tribal societies.
In the first solution, 'making use of elders', he introduced the story of a woman, who remembered her old days surviving a typhoon by eating a particular tree fruit, which normally people would not eat except in emergency, and she passes down her experience as a solution for surviving starvation as living encyclopedia. He emphasized the need to rethink the mandatory retirement system in order to take advantage of the experience of elders in a similar way.
In the second solution, 'developing and maintaining social skills', Dr. Diamond introduced a story, in which a group of expert lawyers from a major oil company were defeated in negotiation with New Guineans. The people of New Guinea, who have remarkable skills of observation, frustrated the group of lawyers by stalling with tribal festivals and such, and unremittingly changing negotiators and contract terms, resulting in a successful negotiation for themselves.
In contrast, as an example of declining social skills in modern societies, Dr. Diamond related a story of a couple who could not keep up a conversation without smartphones. He emphasized the importance of encouraging face-to-face communication by, for instance, setting a 'no smartphone day.'
In the third solution, 'settling disputes', Dr. Diamond introduced a story of a friend of him, who killed a son of someone he knew in a traffic accident. In modern societies, he explained, the benefits of companies and individuals are prioritized and it is important to yield results that benefit themselves. Meanwhile, in traditional societies, as society is small and people remain in the same society and know each other, it is more important to maintain a good relationship between them.
"My friend apologized with tears, sharing the feeling of the family who lost their child. When that happened, the victim family understood the wrongdoers anguish and forgave him. It is essential to reach an emotional closure."
The fourth solution is 'assessing danger'. Dr. Diamond related an experience from when he was young. He had suggested resting under a large tree, but as this was a dead tree, New Guineans refused to rest with him. He felt that their concern was paranoia. However, as he calculated that if he were to sleep under the dead tree every night, he found out that within three years the tree would have fallen and killed him. Now he accepts this concern as a 'healthy paranoia.'
He remarked, "We tend to overestimate dangers like terrorism and airplane accidents while we underestimate every day dangers such as smoking, eating too much salt, or falling in the shower."
Although the risk of falling in the shower is low, the risk of death increases when we repeatedly do the same thing every single time. He warns that in the same way there are dangers that lurk in everyday work in corporate activities as well.

In his final message before wrapping up the speech, Dr. Diamond said, "Social innovation may be the quest for innovative solutions. However, it is also to rediscover solutions that have already been invented. There are thousands of tribal societies in New Guinea that have carried out countless experiences: bringing up children; making use of elders; assessing danger. Without a doubt, there is much we can learn from the solutions that these people have come up with."