All I Need to Know about Business I Learned from a Duck


An Important Business Lesson From Your Closest Living Relative

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Ten years ago (2002) it was my honor and privilege to help launch the Great Ape Trust (known back then as the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary). What impressed me then, and continues to inspire me today is the conviction both Ted Townsend, Founder and Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh , Lead Research Scientist had for “the cause”. Back then, understanding the cognitive and communication capabilities of Kanzi and other bono chimpanzees was new territory in the discipline of language research; it took true courage to ignore the scientific community’s criticism and skepticism and create the most advanced, non-invasive ape research facility on Earth.

Meanwhile, in a research facility on the island of Maui, Dr. Penny Patterson was also studying interspecies communication with her star student Koko. Unlike Kanzi, who uses graphical symbols called lexigrams to communicate with humans, Koko, a western lowlands gorilla became fluent in American Sign Language (ASL).

Shortly after viewing many videos of both Kanzi, Koko and other great apes, I began to give consideration to the idea that if we would only slow down and pay attention, apes (as well as other critters) might not only reawaken humanities’ respect for other life forms, but they might also provide us with insights and lessons on how we might improve our lives and possibly even redefine what it means to be human.

Would you like to see an example? Please click on video, below.

Gorillas share 97.7 percent of their DNA with humans. So it’s not surprising that Koko turned her back to the TV screen when she anticipated a sad and painful scene from the movie. Most people, including business owners and managers, go to extraordinary measures to avoid pain in their lives, which is why many businesses underperform or fail. Whether it’s delaying the firing of an employee who, after numerous warnings and additional training simply isn’t measuring up to company standards or if it is admitting that a long standing marketing strategy simply isn’t working anymore, mustering up the bravery to objectively examine the situation and make changes within an organization takes courage.

Peter Drucker, who is the founder of modern business management theory, said it best, “Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.” So I’ll close by asking you a few questions. When was the last time you made a truly courageous business decision? What information or dysfunctional behavior(s) are you turning your back on because you don’t want to deal with uncomfortable or unpleasant consequences? What is the lack of courage costing you, both personally and professionally?

(For more information about the Great Ape Trust and The Gorilla Foundation click HERE and HERE.)

Porter Admits To Stealing All The Ideas Presented In His Book!

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

In what is apparently a shocking admission of guilt, Tom Porter, author of All I Need To Know About Business I Learned From A Duck, confessed that he heisted each and every concept that appear in his book. When asked how he could justify such a seemingly deplorable act Mr. Porter calmly responded, “ For years and years, engineers and architects have been pirating information and intelligence from the natural world however, they proudly admit to being thieves. So today I too admit to absconding with ingenious concepts that don’t belong to me (they belong to Mother Nature) and applying them to solving business problems. In a word I acknowledge that I am a Biomimic!”

The best known practitioner of Biomimicry is Janine Benyus who, as you’ll see in the video below, defines Biomimicry as “innovation inspired by nature”. An example is the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe where outside temperatures range from 35 degrees F at night to 104 degrees F during the day. Eastgate is the country’s largest office and shopping complex and has no conventional air-conditioning or heating, yet stays regulated year round because it has a ventilation system that replicates the air circulation design created in termite mounds.

Porter says he has taken biomimicry which until now has been utilized primarily to design products, processes and policies that are sustainable, save energy and eliminates waste and expanded its application to inspiring innovation in the world of business. What innovations could your company create next year and beyond if you successfully integrated the following laws, strategies and principles of nature into your business plan?

• Nature fits form to function.
• Nature uses only the energy it needs.
• Nature rewards cooperation.
• Nature recycles everything.
• Nature banks on diversity.
• Nature demands local expertise.
• Nature curbs excesses from within.
• Nature taps the power of limits.

By the way, it’s okay to steal any of the ideas presented in this article. After 3.8 billion years we’re pretty sure Mother Nature’s patent has expired.

NOTE: To learn more about Biomimicry click HERE.

Make’n Waves

Friday, November 11th, 2011

If you have spent any time on or near the ocean you are familiar with the fact that waves come in “sets”. Depending upon the conditions, sets can be small in size, and on rare occasions sometimes waves within a set can be enormous. Like the 90-foot wave that Garrett McNamara (GMAC, as he is also known) rode on Tuesday of this week to establish a new world record for the largest wave ever surfed (click on the incredible video, below).

The primary goal of any and all businesses, including not-for-profit organizations, is to create waves in the market place. I believe a business leader’s major responsibility is to create the conditions within an organization that will generate the biggest wave possible by strategically differentiating his or her company from competitors. According to Michael Porter, Marketing Guru (no relation), there are only two ways to accomplish that: choosing to perform activities differently or to perform different activities than rivals.

For example, Ikea, the global furniture retailer based in Sweden has differentiated itself from traditional furniture stores by performing activities differently (Ikea offers in-store childcare; despite the fact that Ikea is a “retailer”, it manufacturers and designs all of its modular, ready-to-assemble furniture; and customers are expected to do their own pick-up and delivery .. however, Ikea will sell you a roof rack for your car that you can return for a refund on your next visit!).

On the other hand, Southwest Airlines performs different activities than competitors by avoiding large airports in large cities; not flying great distances; and most recently they have successfully differentiated themselves with its corporate policy and strategic position that BAGS FLY FREE!

So here’s my question … Is your company merely creating a ripple in the market place, or are you generating a monster wave of product and service differentiation that you can ride now and into the future?

If you’re like me and are interested in knowing more about Garrett and big-wave riding, click HERE.

Business Leaders – Come Out of Your Shell and Actualize Your Hidden Potential!

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Using nature as inspiration for solving business problems is what my book is all about. In recent years my worldview has gravitated from a Western scientific, Newtonian mechanical perspective, to a belief that there is an underlying intelligence within the universe that is capable of guiding us. However, to tap into this Source business leaders must recognize that they have created deep mental models of how the world works and for authentic change to take place both within themselves and their organizations, those leaders must be willing to make fundamental shifts of mind. As Albert Einstein said, “The world we have created is a product of our way of thinking.”

With that said, I’m using the molting cicada as a beautiful example in nature of the process that is required to shed the old, confining “self” and transform into something new (please click on video, below).

For me the cicada’s struggle represents the point in life where an individual is willing to shed his or her stored up images, interpretations, feelings, distrusts, likes and dislikes in order to see the world more like it truly is. And according to Joseph Jaworski, author of Synchronicity – The Inner Path of Leadership, the world is not made up of things, but rather the world is open, ever changing and primarily made up of relationships.

The four guiding principles in his book are:

1. There is an open and emergent quality to the universe.
2. The universe is a domain of undivided wholeness; both the material world and consciousness and parts of the same undivided whole.
3. There is a creative Source of infinite potential enfolded in the universe.
4. Humans can learn to draw from the infinite potential of the Source by choosing to follow a disciplined path toward self-realization and love, the most powerful energy in the universe.

Before you dismiss Jaworski’s approach to decision making, innovation and enhanced human performance as a bunch of new age mumbo jumbo, you might give consideration to the fact that his company, Generon International, lists among its clients: Federal Express, Johnson & Johnson, Shell Oil Companies, WK Kellogg Foundation and Lucent Technologies.

So, if you are seeking greater insight into how you might re-connect the powerful forces of scientific logic with your deepest intuition and how as a business leader you can better anticipate, adapt to, and master the unknown (doing those three things effectively is why you’re making the big bucks, right?), I highly recommend that you read Joseph Jaworski’s most recent book.

Better yet, take the book and read it in the woods … under a tree … with a chorus of cicadas as background music.

Co-opetition – Is it a Fishy Business Strategy?

Monday, August 1st, 2011

A common misconception about the natural world is the idea that survival of the fittest is an overarching principle or law of nature when in fact it has been shown that mutual aid and cooperation within and among species has been critically important in enabling living organisms to survive and evolve. Examples of give-and-take abound among mammals and primates in particular, however symbiosis (mutually beneficial relationships) also exist in a wide variety of species, including fish. Check out the video, below:

Finding mutually productive ways of doing business with your competitors may not be an option that you have considered in the past, but maybe it’s a viable strategy today whether your company is thriving or if you are in survival mode. After all, co-opetition has been practiced by the airline industry for many years, and despite recent negative press and unprecedented high fuel prices, airlines are once again making lots of money. A few of the co-operative behaviors that airlines engage in are:

• Selling seats on each other’s flights
• Sharing safety data and procedures
• Sharing aircraft parts inventory
• Selling computer software programs to each other

Co-opetition, as the word suggests, is part competition and part cooperation. Another example is food courts where restaurants are concentrated in a small area, which brings all the customers to one location (cooperation), and then each establishment competes for their business (competition).

From a traditional business point of view, it looks like a bad idea. However, by locating within close proximity of each other, and cooperating in sharing advertising costs, sharing tables and trays and sometimes even jointly creating special events, mall restaurants can reduce costs and create a much larger and valuable market than they could have created by working individually.

Granted, working with (rather than against) a competitor that could eat your company alive may go against your instincts, but if symbiosis (co-opetition) has been working effectively in the natural world for over 3.8 billion years, maybe it can work in the business world, as well.

What Can Horses Teach Us About Leadership?

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Some people refer to it as Equine Guided Coaching, others call it Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) or Equine Experiential Education … but no matter what you call it, over the past two decades there has been explosive growth world-wide in the emerging Equine Assisted Activities industry.

Why Horses?

The horse is an animal of prey as well as a social heard animal. As such they have evolved into expert readers of energy mainly because their very survival depends upon constant awareness of their surroundings and to relationships within the herd. So, if you’re acting nervous around a horse, the horse will become nervous. And if you’re angry but have a smile on your face, the horse will read your “honest” emotion and shy away.

Click on the video below to watch workshops and listen to participant’s comments about horse assisted leadership activities provided by L-E-A-D located in Mantua, Ohio , (Recommendation – The video is 8:11 so if you don’t have time to watch all of it, be sure to at least watch the first 3 minutes).

How Do Horses Provide Opportunities For Leadership Growth?
Example: Most managers aren’t conscious of the mixed messages they send to reports and colleagues, even in relatively simple encounters and conversations. A majority of the time when a supervisor’s actions, behaviors, words and emotions are not consistent, employees normally don’t provide honest feedback. But when it occurs at an equine workshop, participants working with an equine partner will be provided with immediate feedback (horses mirror exactly what humans put out there) which gives the participant an opportunity to grow both personally and professionally.

So if you’re looking for an unique approach to leadership training where you’ll learn something new about your leadership style and discover “blind spots” that simply could not be revealed any other way, click HERE to link to Winning With Horse Power, an organization that serves as a conduit to connect businesses and individuals with the dedicated professionals who use equine experiential learning in their practices.

By the way, if you are looking for Equine Guided Coaching right here in Iowa, Brent and Jackie Bower, owners of Spirit of Chiron in Neola, Iowa, have completed a rigorous apprenticeship program and now offer the Epona-based Equestrian Approach which qualifies them to teach horse-human relationship skills, mind-body awareness, emotional fitness, assertiveness, and authentic leadership (click HERE for more information).

Expect The Best … But Prepare For The Worst.

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the BP oil spill (click on BP Spills Coffee video spoof, below – it will make you laugh … it will make you cry). According to the National Weather Service more than 240 tornadoes have been reported in the US since last Thursday. The Texas Forest Service reported that 6,061 wildfires and more than 1.8 million acres have burned since the beginning of the year, affecting both rural towns and urban areas. The Mississippi River is 6 feet over the 15-foot flood stage in downtown Davenport, Iowa at this moment.

The devastation caused by natural and man-made disasters is horrific. And the after-effects for small businesses are sometimes insurmountable. In fact, nearly 40% of all small businesses that close due to a disaster never reopen.

Creating a written disaster planning, emergency preparedness or business continuity plan (whichever you choose to call it) could mean the difference between success and failure for your company. A well-thought-out plan provides the following:

• Serves as a guide for the recovery teams.
• References and points to the location of critical data.
• Provides procedures and resources needed to assist in recovery.
• Identifies vendors and customers that must be notified in the event of a disaster.
• Assists in avoiding confusion experienced during a crisis by documenting, testing and reviewing recovery procedures.
• Identifies alternate sources for supplies, resources and locations.
• Documents storage, safeguarding and retrieval procedures for vital records.

For free downloadable disaster recovery plan templates click HERE and HERE.

Can Bedbugs Teach Us Anything about Surviving in Today’s Business Environment?

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Bedbugs have been around since 400 BC and were nearly eradicated in the early 1940s; however, over the past decade their numbers have soared by 100 to 500 per cent. Up until just a few weeks ago scientists thought the increase was primarily due to an increase in travel to and from bug infested regions; but studies conducted by Ohio State University researchers found that bedbugs may be genetically resistant to the pesticides currently used to get rid of them.

In other words bedbugs have gone so far as to change their DNA in order to survive and thrive … which made me wonder if there was anything owners and managers of America’s small to medium-sized business could learn from them about surviving in today’s business environment. (See video of a genetically modified bedbug hatching, below, if you can stomach it!)

Here’s my take:

What was successful in the past may not be the best strategy for long-term survival – Just as insects and other aspects of nature change and evolve over time; to remain competitive and successful companies need to accept and encourage change. Hershey Foods Corporation didn’t advertise for 76 years. Milton Hershey stuck to his guns saying, “The quality of our product is the best form of advertising.” But after suffering significant losses in market share during the 50s and 60s, he finally consented to printing a Sunday newspaper supplement in July, 1970 followed two months later by national TV and radio commercials … which helped launch the company to unprecedented increases in sales and profits.

Be willing and flexible enough to make monumental changes, if necessary – After repeated exposure to toxic compounds and pesticides, some “intelligence” within bedbugs figured out that deep, deep change – changes to its genetic make-up – was required in order to survive. As an owner or manager, are you willing to go so far as to change the DNA of your company in order to survive and thrive? Are you willing to change your value proposition, your brand position … possibly even change your organization’s core values?

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – Nobody truly welcomes or desires adversity in their life. But if you consider that we learn best from failure, running into a few bumps in the road, even some major ones, might lead to novel ways of operating your business that you probably wouldn’t have considered if all was going smoothly (after all, what new insights can be gained if all you experience is success after success after success?).

All I Want For Christmas Is To Have Legs Like A Reindeer

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Currently the Midwest is severely cold. In a word I feel like I’m freezing. And despite the fact that I have lived here all my life, I’m not adjusting to it very well. Oh, how I wish I was as adaptive as a Reindeer. Did you know they can lower the temperature in their legs to just above freezing to avoid loss of body heat? To catch a glimpse of what wild Reindeer endure in a typical day, check out the short video, below:

Adapting to their harsh, barren habitat is how Reindeer have not only survived but thrived over the years. Want to know another adjustment they’ve made? Rather than gathering around the water cooler complaining about blizzard conditions, Reindeer designed a special tendon in their feet that snaps against bone so during white-outs even if they cannot see the herd, they’ll know where their buddies are by simply listening for the sound of “clicks”.

Adaptability is an important characteristic in reaching success in business, as well. I’ve found that the world of business is full of surprises and unforeseen events and being willing to change course and make choices that pushed me beyond my comfort zone became an important leadership skill that I relied on frequently.

But here’s the conundrum – many leaders who are not flexible or adaptive aren’t aware of their limitation. Even worse, because they have a slanted view of reality some might consider themselves to be adapting to change when their behavior and decisions clearly demonstrates that they are fixed in their old plans and perspective.

So if you suspect that you are going down the same old path at a time when you should be exploring new territory, simply ask the following questions of your colleagues and reports and then listen for the “clicks”: Do you think I am adaptable? Do you think I’m easily able to cope with changing circumstances? In your opinion do you feel that I can easily modify plans due to unforeseen circumstances … and that I am not easily upset by changes in plans?

Body Language (Warning: This Post Bites!)

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

I’ve run into my share of “snakes” over my business career … if only I had learned to read body language and detect patterns early on I could have avoided some unpleasant situations.

Jeff Corwin’s video, below, drives home the point that in nature the ability to effectively read body language can literally mean the difference between life and death. Check it out!

There are thousands of poisonous critters in the natural world but there’s no need to memorize the names of all of them if you simply pay attention to their body language. Whether it’s the bright colors and flashy patterns of Coral snakes, or the intimidating spikes that protrude from Lion and Scorpion fishes … those animals are sending potential predators a huge non-verbal signal to stay away or face dire consequences. (By the way, recent studies show that there are more venomous fish than venomous snakes, so if you’re into snorkeling and scuba diving watch yourself!).

Accurately reading “human” body language is a teachable strategic skill that can give you an advantage in your career. By accurately reading body language you can determine whether someone likes you or not (even before they say a word), identify whether someone is being honest or deceitful … you can even detect somebody else’s mood.

Nonverbal communication (body language) includes facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, posture, touch, space and tone of voice (pitch, volume, inflection, rhythm). Most psychologists agree that over 80% of communication happens not in the words that are used, but in the way things are said. And if words and body language disagree, believe the body language.