“My Neanderthal is better”


So, this happened …

It cost you Five Billion Dollars? OK great, so what can I get for $100?

The so-called “Human Genome Project” began in 1990, was completed in 2003, and cost approximately US$5 billion. During this time, scientists made a complete mapping of all genes that make up the human genome, probably the biggest biological collaboration project ever.

And now around 20 years later, regular people like you and me can go online and order a personal gene testing kit for around $100, for details of your own genetic make-up.  (And yes, I know there is a significant difference between the above project and the typical analysis of your personal SNPs, but there is also a significant difference between $100 and $5,000,000,000, so let’s not go there now.)

So a few years ago, Yen and I decided we would do an ancestry-based genetic test. We were clear that she was Chinese, going back many generations. And although I was born in South Africa, my gene tree would be strongly rooted in Europe. What got us thinking about ancestry at the time was the coming birth of our child, who would be, I guess, mixed race.

And there were no surprises. Yen turned out to be 98% Han Chinese, and I was neatly 50/50 European: Northern Europe (from my mom’s side) and Eastern Europe (from my dad’s side). We read through the report in more detail, about how many genetic relatives we had in their database, and where these people were based around the world.

But then I noticed near the bottom of my report that I was about 1% Neanderthal, which I thought was interesting. Caveman genes were still embedded in my genetic profile! I turned to Yen to ask her percentage, but she was still focused on reading about what type of ear wax she was likely to have, and whether she was genetically more likely than average to sneeze when stepping out into the bright sunshine.

We checked her report, she was 2% Neanderthal, a slightly higher proportion than me.

“I’m better than you!” I exclaimed, but I was partly drowned out by Yen shouting “I’m better than you!” at the same time.

What? What was I missing? I was less of a caveman than she was, that makes me less primitive, that makes me ‘better’ than her. Maybe she misheard my number, so I asked her to explain.

“Neanderthal is effectively the origins of homo sapiens,” she clarified. “It’s the most ancient of genes that we could classify as human. My Neanderthal percent is higher than yours, so I am a longer-lived, more ancient, more evolved being. I’m better than you!”

Of course this was all just light banter, but it was an interesting reminder than two people can see the same thing, but judge it completely differently. I associated Neanderthal with cavemen, and was happy to be more ‘modern’ than her. She, perhaps part of her Chinese heritage, values ancient civilisations, and so she saw value in having a greater slice of a more ancient being.

Same numbers, different values. What’s the value to you, of not forgetting that?

Simple Definition

My Neanderthal is better: This story reminds us that even if people agree on what ‘something’ is, they may still have different opinions on the value or the meaning of that something.

Discussing what it means

This may come as a complete shock to you, but different people see things differently. And “My Neanderthal is better” is a great way to remember that.

In fact, this #hashtag-story has got two ‘flavors’ to it – preferences and values.

People prefer different things

This ‘flavor’ is obvious, and we won’t spend a lot of time on it. I’ll just dump a bunch of examples in bullet-point form, to give you a quick feel for this perspective.

  • I prefer salty, you prefer sweet.
  • She prefers cappuccino, he prefers espresso.
  • We love horror movies, they love period dramas.
  • Some people like to read fiction, you like to read non-fiction. And some people simply hate reading.
  • He loves his wife dearly, but you couldn’t imagine yourself ever being in a relationship with her.

Nothing earth-shattering here, people like different things.

People value different things

Although we generally accept that people have different preferences, for some reason (which is odd, because preferences and values are so closely related) we seem to be so much less tolerant of people who value things differently to us.

(Of course, if it still bothers you that people have different preferences to you, then you have got a lot more ‘self’ work to do :). No, they are not wrong for having different preferences from you, so please stop judging them.)

Value here is about importance or priority, as you’ll see in the examples which follow.

  • In #[Pigs on my birthday cake], we mentioned the book “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman, a book which talks about the ways we give and receive love. As a reminder, these are: words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, gifts, physical contact. Maybe I value words of affirmation over quality time, for example, because I feel they come from a deeper place than just agreeing to spend time with someone.
  • I had a boss who seemed to value people getting to work before he did, even just half an hour. He didn’t seem to value the team members who worked late, regardless of whether it was several hours into the night. This was a matter of valuing stuff (not just preferring an early-start lifestyle) which even made it into the bonuses he allocated to us at the end of the year.
  • Some parents value an obedient child who does what they’re told, who doesn’t speak unless spoken to. Other parents value independence and courage in their children, and are proud when their children challenge and speak up.
  • And what about those boastful guys in the dating scene who try so hard to show how successful they are, how expensive their car is, how big their … bonus … is. They assume their dates value money above all else, and the meetup just goes downhill from the start.
  • There are car buyers who value safety over sexiness, or price over performance. Whether they get red or blue is probably a matter of preference, whether it’s a Ford or a Toyota might be a matter of preference. But safety or performance, this is more a matter of value.
  • And there are people who value corporate titles more than they value work-life balance. (Of course, they might prefer just chilling at home over the weekend, but because of what they value, they end up working when they could be resting.)

All of these examples are true to the “My Neanderthal is better” concept. It’s a reminder to us that people are different, they have different preferences, and they have different values.

The big take-aways are as follows:

  • Don’t be surprised that people see things differently. Respect differences.
  • If someone does see something differently to you, accept it. Don’t judge, don’t set about trying to change their minds. Respect others.
  • But similarly, don’t immediately assume that you are wrong in your preferences and values, just because someone you really care about or really respect, sees things differently to you. Respect yourself.
  • Appreciate that knowledge of this #hashtag-story empowers you to achieve things that otherwise you wouldn’t be able to. Respect knowledge.

Making it personal

The best way of understanding how to use the knowledge of “My Neanderthal is better” is to think about both selling and negotiation.


In it’s basic form, selling is about trying to convince someone to buy something.

But the real question is, how do you convince someone to do something that you want them to do, on your terms?

In order to make the sale, you begin by trying to understand a person and the problem they’re trying to solve. Then you need to understand what their preferences are, and what their values are, so that you can fit in with this structure, and deliver a solution that solves their problem, according to how they want things to be.

Amateur sales people don’t realise that “My Neanderthal is better”. They assume their clients, all their clients, are just like them. They believe that because they value safety in a car, that everyone values safety in cars. And they keep emphasizing safety while trying to make the sale. And then they wonder why so few people are buying.

An experienced sales person knows that people value different things, and so part of their sales process will be to understand their prospect. They will investigate their preferences and their values, and they will ensure that they convey their sales message in those terms.

This isn’t about manipulating someone, but instead it’s about respecting them, and adjusting your message to match their preferences and values. Learn to ask.


While a selling process has a seller and a buyer, a negotiation process might be a bit more like two parties, both wanting something, and both willing to offer some things in return. Selling might be seen as a one-way process, while negotiating might be more like a series of trades to get the overall deal through. And yes, there is of course a fair amount of overlap.

But it’s the “series of trades” that is most interesting here.

Skilled negotiators are experts at taking advantage of the “My Neanderthal is better” concept – they not only appreciate that people value different things, but they use this to make ‘optimal’ deals happen.

  • I remember around the time of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, I was negotiating with a client about putting a large capital relief transaction into place. I was offering to have the work completed in 3-4 months at a certain price, which was a fair deal. But they valued speed-to-completion (and thus certainty of a deal) more than they valued a cheap implementation. So I was able to trade what I valued more than them (a high price), with what they valued more than I did (huge amounts of effort to get the deal done as quickly as possible) – and we had a mutually satisfactory deal, where both sides were happier than they would have been with the ‘default’ deal.
  • My 4 year old (correct, there are no age limits to skilled negotiators) wanted to watch Lion King on TV (what she valued), and offered to practice some maths (read: ‘mental arithmetic’) with me in advance (what I valued for her). I agreed, with no push-back. She must have noticed that I agreed to her terms quite quickly, so she decided to ride that momentum by negotiating for more – she asked for some chocolate (what she valued). I hesitated, and so she offered me something I valued in return, by confirming it would only be dark chocolate (because I value low-sugar diets). We had a deal, and both got what we wanted.

So when you’re in a negotiation, at home or in the office, make sure you’ve identified your respective “My Neanderthal is better” items, and be prepared to trade away what you value less, in order to get in what you value more.

Walking away with more value

Some people who read this chapter will value the “read and move on” approach, having enjoyed it relatively quickly.

While others – like you! – value learning new skills in order to significantly improve your life. You’re less interested in rushing on to do something else before you’ve properly thought about and absorbed the lessons in this chapter.

So take a moment to contemplate the process of appreciating that people are different, respecting the differences, taking the time to identify those differences, and then usefully trading with those differences, for a win-win strategy.

Our Neanderthal is better.

Related stories

#[Pigs on my birthday cake]

#[Sexually adventurous: 8/10]

#[Eating blue cheese with apple ice-cream]

#[Lightning storms are calming]

#[It’s not about the typo]

The DNA headline pictures was obtained from Wikimedia Commons.


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