Randy Pennington is the author of Make Change Work: Staying Nimble, Relevant, and Engaged in a World of Constant Change. In this guest post, he poses a question every leader should consider.
Are you a dodo bird or a coyote? Your company’s long-term success will quite possibly come down to this simple question.
In Defense of the Dodo
The dodo bird has become the iconic symbol for failure to adapt to a changing environment. The term dodo is often identified with a lack of common sense and being perpetually confused.
You could say that the dodo became complacent and comfortable. Dodos, however, were not stupid. They never had a chance. They evolved in an environment with no natural predators and no need to adapt. The dodo had no reason to fly, much less grow and change. Extinction is the result when you are born without the ability to understand the concepts of danger, urgency, complacency, and change.
That’s not the case with humans, and yet there are people and organizations of all shapes, sizes, and types that view their world through the eyes of the dodo bird. Take a look at the factors that led to the dodo’s demise and, most important, look for any similarities to the organization or team you lead today:
- Grew up in a stable, secure environment with no need to worry about predators or outside danger
- Lost the ability to expand its reach out of comfort and complacency
- Had no ability to distinguish predators from friends
- Lost or never developed the ability to adapt quickly to changing opportunities or threats
- Never saw change coming or anticipated a different possible future and therefore left itself with no time to adapt
Dodos didn’t know any better. You do, and you can overcome these factors with intentional effort.
In Praise of the Coyote
The Road Runner cartoons featured Wile E. Coyote as the bumbling nemesis trying to capture the endlessly out of reach object of its desire.
The truth is far different.
The coyote is not sexy or mysterious like the wolf. It isn’t as cute as the mice or penguins that inhabit popular change parables. But the coyote is an ideal model for flourishing in the face of change because it is:
- Adaptable: Coyotes originally inhabited open prairies and deserts in the southwestern part of North America. Today, they are found from Alaska to Central America and flourish in forests, mountains, and urban areas. Unlike most species, coyotes thrive in areas where humans live—often without anyone even knowing that they are there.
- Opportunistic problem solver: Coyotes learned that survival meant doing different things as well as doing things differently. They prefer meat, but they will eat basically anything: mammals, insects, fish, snakes, fruit, food discarded by humans, and plants. Coyotes were never told to adapt. They just looked for opportunities and did it.
- Aware of its surroundings: Coyotes can detect food and danger up to a mile away. In other words, it is hard to surprise a coyote. They know you are coming before you know that they are around.
- Speedy: Coyotes can run at a respectable 40 mph. That is not puma-like speed, but it is fast enough for them to avoid predators and catch their prey.
- Territorial when needed: Like their cousins the dog, coyotes mark and defend their territory. What is theirs is theirs, and you will have to fight them to take it.
- Secretive when it serves them: Coyotes have developed the ability to hide in plain sight, and they will even walk on their toes to keep their prey from hearing them.
- Committed to family: Coyotes strong sense of family increases their opportunities to protect and grow the species. Male coyotes are active participants in caring for newborn pups, which means more of them survive.
- Versatile when working to succeed: Coyotes usually work alone or in small packs. But they will work in larger teams when it serves their purpose. Coyotes will even team up with badgers—a natural enemy—to track and kill a common prey. There is no illusion of friendship. The coyotes and badgers enter into this partnership of convenience because it conserves energy and increases their mutual effectiveness.
The first step in ensuring the long-term viability of your company is understanding what you are and what you want to be.
The future belongs to the coyotes. The dodos will become extinct.
Which one are you?
We welcome your comments and feedback here — please share!
To learn more about Randy Pennington and his book, Make Change Work: Staying Nimble, Relevant, and Engaged in a World of Constant Change, visit penningtongroup.com.
Phil Van Hooser
Leadership Training Expert, Keynote Speaker
Author of Leaders Ought to Know: 11 Ground Rules for Common Sense Leadership
This article is adapted from Make Change Work: Staying Nimble, Relevant, and Engaged in a World of Constant Change (Wiley, 2013). ©2013 by Pennington Performance Group; Addison, TX. All rights reserved. This article may be downloaded for personal and professional development. Copies may be shared within an individual organization. All other uses of this material are strictly prohibited without written permission from the author.