This is the first in a (potential) series of posts in which I examine natural phenomena with perceived lessons for the business world. If I manage to string together more than a couple of these, I’ll circle back and address the premise that behaviors in nature should actually be taken as business advice. In the meantime, consider it a theme on which to hang a random thought I had o’er the weekend…
Most are familiar with the concept of a lead animal in a pack being “Alpha,” meaning that they are the natural and largely accepted leader of a group. In the business world, we call these people “boss,” “President,” “Head honcho,” etc. While the process of determining Alpha may differ in skyscrapers as opposed to Serengeti, the operational upshot is similar.
This weekend, I noticed an interesting behavior in my own pack of dogs. Of the three, Bonnie, a young retriever is clearly “The Alpha.” The others largely defer to her and she is the de-facto instigator and leader. At the other end of the spectrum is her littermate, Clyde, who is deferential to a fault.
That’s the general case, anyway. But when going on our boat, the dynamic changes. While all our dogs seem to enjoy the boat, Clyde is clearly the most comfortable; and Bonnie is the least. We too the two out together yesterday, and in every sense, it was clear for those few hours that Clyde, being more in his element, was the Alpha. Several times he pushed Bonnie away from the drinking dish, something he would never do in dry dock.
It occurred to me that this behavior really makes perfect sense: While one dog is generally the most self-assured, and generally in charge, another is more so in a specialized situation and takes over.
Compare that to the business world where “The Boss” is always the boss. The CFO may be more comfortable with finance, but is still working under the direction of the president. The VP of Sales has to answer to the President at all times. The CTO is not the final decisionmaker, even when he is the only one who fully understands the logistics and impact of a decision.
Now we people love our hierarchies, and aren’t likely as able to seamlessly shift roles. And there is much to be said for an overall “buck stops here” accountability. But I wonder if nature doesn’t have something to teach us about organizational theory.