Businesses: Don’t be a Gorilla or Eagle… Be a Crow

The good old “800 pound gorilla” metaphor came up in recent conversation, reminding me of a clever article I read a few years ago on the subject of animal metaphors, which are all too common in business-speak.

This company or that company is the “800 pound gorilla.” Another company might say it “strives to be an eagle in its industry.” And infamous ex-Sunbeam CEO “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap,  who fired scores of workers with raw impunity, was partial to the mighty lion, adorning his office with a huge lion image, in honor of its predatory, eat-or-be-eaten carnivorousness.

I say, forget all of those animal metaphors. Instead, companies should strive to be the crow of their industry.

Putting aside the ominous symbolism of crows in mythology, literature and horror movies, business columnist Dale Dauten made a strong case for businesses to act like the crow, one of the most resourceful and adaptive among all wildlife:

I’d like to see [businesses] learn from the wisdom of the crow. Crows are the geniuses of the avian world…crows are eight times more abundant within 1 km/0.6 miles of people than they are further from people. Yet, crows do not require humans…

When convenient, crows can work as a team: Should they spot an otter with a freshly caught fish, the crows gather around, and one crow pinches the otter’s tail to distract it, then the others nip in for the fish steal…

Thus, we see the wisdom of the crow, the ultimate adapter: Go with it. Not the old “go for it” of the predator relying on strength and will, but the brainier “go with it,” accepting the environment and making use of whatever it offers.

Dale Dauten’s point nicely dovetails (no aviary pun intended) with the more recent advice  from 37Signals founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson to utilize simplicity as a product differentiator to beat the competition: “do less than your competitors to beat them. Solve the simple problem and leave the hairy, difficult, nasty problems to the competition.”  I blogged about Jason Fried’s and David Heinemeier Hansson’s book Rework in this blog article, which also includes some related advice directly applicable to software companies by Kathy Sierra.

Also, Jeffrey Fox’s book, How to Be a Fierce Competitor, can be described as a primer on how to be a crow in business: seeking and finding new opportunities amid hard economic times while bigger competitors sit on their hands to “wait things out.”

Please read my review of How to Be a Fierce Competitor, perhaps Jeffrey Fox’s best since his first bestseller How to Become CEO.

Acting like a crow, with full awareness and action based on a very acute knowledge of the realities of its markets, will no doubt improve the likeliness for businesses to succeed, despite hostile economies and would-be 800 pound gorillas, eagles, lions, tigers, and/or bears for a very long time.

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