Winners Hunt in Packs: Drawing Business Lessons from the Big Cats
by Yasanhalari Kharkongor
We sometimes take nature for granted, but the rule of “survival of the fittest” applies just as much to business as it does to the wilderness. Gripping documentaries from “Blue Planet” to “Life” showcase that we have a lot to learn from our natural environment.
We’ve all watched nature programmes at one time or another and we can’t help but notice that moment of smugness after the big cats make that precise-and-seamless-catch– it’s almost as if they’re grinning.
Well, why not? They aced it.
Business is becoming more about speed, agility and strategy, and who embodies all three naturally, if not the BIG CATS themselves?
So, forget Shark Tank, here are a few lessons you can spirit away directly from the plains of the Maasai Mara to help you stay ahead of the game.
# VISION- STRATEGY- EXECUTION
Although big cats are the undisputed top predator, known to challenge strong opposition with fearlessness, their unforgiving environment doesn’t make it easy for them. If there’s one thing we can learn from these killing machines, it’s that strategy is paramount, whether it’s as an individual or in group ventures.
In group hunts, lionesses typically begin with a formation and they take seven different stalking roles which fall into ‘Left-Wing, Centre and Right-Wing positions’.
The lionesses that take the wing positions often start the attack on the prey, while lionesses in the centre positions stay hidden until those in the wings position drive the prey their way, often leaving them no avenue of escape. This cooperative hunting style has a high probability of success.
Group hunts are carefully orchestrated events. The pride has a clear vision on how they aim to take on their prey, executing their killer STRATEGIC move to achieve their desired outcome whilst being flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances (more on that in a second). This style of hunting, which requires coordinated stalking, positioning and pursuit, cannot possibly succeed without adhering to this process.
The same rings true in business: vision must always come first. The vision paves the way for the strategy, and with a clearly defined framework of how to achieve that, a business can confidently set along the strategic path that is aligned with its goals.
Say, what does a traveller need before planning the best routes? A map.
A vision acts as a map that helps the traveller chart his way through unfamiliar terrain. It shows the important roads and highways that cross the region, towns, villages and the surrounding landscape. Without such information, the traveller will easily lose his way.
However, it is utterly pointless to have a plan and but not execute it because, at the end of the day, a vision and strategy alone cannot help you.
“Without execution, ‘vision’ is just another word for hallucination.”
-Mark V. Hurd.
A good strategy only comes into play when a business allows its vulnerability to be stripped and searched; allowing gaps to be identified. Looking for ways to win can only result from an openness that one is not invincible.
“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”
Strategies can help look at the past and the present to approach the future. To survive and grow in the business world, resources, products and services alone are not enough to win- after all a business environment is just as unforgiving as the Serengeti plains.
Photo credit: memegenerator
Agility follows strategy very closely in terms of importance because, without it, it’d be like driving a fast car without gears and breaks.
So, let’s look at the Cheetah.
They have speed on their side, reaching 110 – 120 km/h, yet that alone is not sufficient to keep them ahead of the game. They still need to add another subtler element to their hunting strategy. For the fastest land animal to hunt successfully, it will need more than speed.
A team of researchers observed five wild cheetahs in northern Botswana and discovered that despite reaching top speeds of nearly 60 mph (97 km/h), they rely on agility rather than fully relying on their breakneck strides to hunt down their prey.
Alan Wilson, a professor in the department of comparative biomedical sciences at The Royal Veterinary College in the United Kingdom said that what was more remarkable was the manoeuvrability and acceleration that they displayed.
Astonishing as it may sound, he also said that cheetahs do about half their top speed when they hunt, so they’re not moving extremely quickly.
The problem with agility is that it’s easy to understand it, it’s incredibly hard to practise it. The reason being rigidity is one of human’s fatal flaws. The reality is, bends and corners are inevitable and the ability to move around them is key to avoiding a disastrous break.
It matters that businesses are agile
Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. – George Bernard Shaw
For businesses to succeed, they will need more than a good product or technology- they will need that extra ability to change and adapt swiftly with ease.
We live in an age of change which is happening at warp speed and opportunities are going to be seized only by those who are ready and capable of adapting and moving with the changing tide. Responsiveness to change has a significant impact on the future of any business. More on this by way of illustration in our previous article.
Organisational agility: businesses that are structurally agile tend to show a degree of organisational intelligence which is the ability to “create knowledge and use it to strategically adapt to its environment or marketplace”.
The battle of centralised and decentralised continues but what we’re after is a balance between these two divergent approaches. As Aaron De Smet, Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company, puts it: “You need to be both. You need stability and this dynamic capability.”
Agility is key to finding a happy medium between a centralised and decentralised structure.
“It takes two flints to make a fire.”
–Louisa May Alcott
Lionesses are powerful hunters. A lioness can weigh up to 158 kilograms at maximum and can reach speeds of 81 km/h. Although they have the capacity to hunt on their own yet they choose to hunt in a group.
We can turn to these untamed creatures for lessons in collaboration, contribution and coordination, but how they manage to communicate their common goal so well is beyond us.
Each member in the hunting group has a specific role, knows what to do and delivers without conflict. The point is that every lioness understands that commitment and alignment are critical.
Behind every successful business, there’s a team
Teamwork bears all the hallmarks of a successful work whether it’s a lioness or a business. It is rooted in one of the core principles to success SYNERGY, which is well encapsulated in this one sentence below:
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
A team that works together is stronger because what one member lacks, another steps up to make up for it. When we operate in a great team, contributing and allowing others to contribute, we are more likely to succeed.
If you think business is a one-man show, then be prepared to be wiped out, there’s only so much one can do. The first step to building any successful business is to build a great team. No matter how wonderfully gifted an entrepreneur is, the secret lies in the ability to share the vision, train and inspire a team that can help take the business to new heights.
One final quote from Isaac Newton which neatly sums up the point, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
While we’re busy looking for inspiration from fellow humans, our wilder neighbours have much more to offer. The above points are just a glimpse of a fascinating world that prove that they have plenty of tricks up their paws.