May 13, 2021 Hardwired for Hierarchy: How our Biology Impacts Gig Economy Adoption with Sheila Mahoney-Jewels

This week’s episode of Uprisor, the Future of Work podcast, examines the intersection of human biology and the gig economy. Guest Sheila Mahoney-Jewels is a Life Sciences R&D Independent Workforce Advocate and co-founder of life sciences and R&D marketplace LifeSciHub. She and Topcoder VP Clinton Bonner delve into the deep-rooted reasons humans are locked into hierarchies, and how evolutionary biology impacts gig economy adoption. Listen to the full episode and enjoy highlights from their conversation. 

Economic THeory Meets Evolutionary Biology

Sheila’s recent LinkedIn article, “The Gig Economy: Economic Theory Meets Evolutionary Biology,” explains how corporate hierarchies mirror nature, and why that makes it so challenging for some to accept the shift to non-hierarchical, more distributed workplaces. In an efficient market, the underlying assumption is that everybody who can provide expert goods and services efficiently or at market rates is already doing so. In our tech-enabled gig economy, it’s easier than ever to find talent. Yet corporations are not embracing it as well as they could. Why?

Sheila posits that there’s another scientific discipline at play: evolutionary biology. Hierarchies are in our DNA. As she puts it: “It’s an incredibly compelling argument that hierarchies themselves are very difficult to reach out of. There is tons of unconscious bias towards being in a hierarchy as opposed to not being in a hierarchy.”

Looking to Nature

Clinton and Sheila then shift the discussion to the biological implications of hierarchies (animal kingdom) versus more widely distributed networks (plant kingdom) based on theories outlined in Stefano Mancuso’s book, “The Revolutionary Genius of Plants.” The two compare the inner workings of the gig economy to that of plant systems, highlighting how removing the centralized control found in hierarchical design can allow firms to flourish. 

Each part makes its own decisions and still can communicate those decisions to the rest of the parts. It can evolve towards winning the survival competition.” —Sheila Mahoney-Jewels

Core Value

Wrapping things up, Clinton and Sheila compare how organizations like LifeSciHub and Topcoder derive their core value from the membership itself to move the needle toward distribution and collaboration. Clinton points out that more distributed structures are more resilient to big black swan occurrences by nature, and less susceptible to disruption.

Thank you to Sheila for joining us on this week’s podcast! To learn more about any of the ideologies explored in today’s episode, check out Sheila’s article here. And as always, for more future of work conversations, head to Uprisor.

“The talk around the water cooler, that is all evolutionary biology. That is us as human beings trying to gauge where we stand on the social hierarchy relative to everyone else.” —Sheila Mahoney-Jewels

Annika Nagy


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