I was recently reminded of Jane Goodall – the British primatologist, anthropologist and UN Messenger of Peace. Goodall was born in London, and had a fascination with animals from a very young age. At 18, she left school and worked two jobs in order to finance a longtime dream to visit Africa. She eventually visited South Kinangop, Kenya, where she met the famous anthropologist, Louis Leakey. Soon she was working closely with him, studying primates on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in the Gombe Stream Reserve. She was just 26 years old.
Goodall’s first attempt to study chimpanzees failed – she wasn’t able to get within 200 yards of them without them fleeing. She eventually was successful getting close to another group of chimpanzees, and after two years of seeing her every day, they allowed her to move quite close to her. Goodall didn’t have collegiate training directing her research, and her methods and observations were some that strict scientific principles may have overlooked. For example, instead of numbering chimpanzees, she gave them names, and noticed that they had individual personalities. Goodall’s research is best known for challenging two beliefs that were held by scientists at the time: that only humans could make and use tools, and that chimpanzees were vegetarians. She developed such close bonds over her 30 years living with the chimpanzees of Gombe, that she is – to this day – the only known human ever to be accepted into chimpanzee society.
Jane Goodall was successful in part, because she thought different – or as we like to say now “out of the box”. She was able to do that because she was genuinely passionate about the subject, and had the curiosity and courage to challenge the status quo. Sometimes questioning things is the only way we can truly understand them. Having a team with differing viewpoints and a diverse skill set actually makes us stronger, even if it makes our work harder. This week our interns have been questioning things a lot in Zambia – why things are done a certain way, whether we have thought about x, y or z. It’s forcing us to think creatively too. What can you question this week?