Friday, 23 November 2012

5 organisational lessons from animals and insects

Have you ever thought of animals and insects teaching us to organise better and effectively market our products? In the last few weeks, I rummaged through research journals to delve into the animal and insect behaviour, and came up with some interesting facts fuelling some practical lessons.

Change your strategy to suit the market needs
Goat kids change ‘accents’ to sound like their peers: As “kids”, the goats mimic the sounds of their mother and siblings. But when they get older, they wander off to join social groups, or “crèches”, with goats their own age, changing their accents to sound like their peers.

Now let’s talk about the practicality of this trait. Once Facebook was only for college students and required .edu e-mail addresses in order to join. Many of its users preferred its “exclusivity” to the “generality” of other social networking sites like “Friendster” and “MySpace”. However, Mark Zuckerberg gradually changed the strategy of catering only to college students to accommodate more users and the rest is history.   

Stick to discipline and organisational culture
Ants mark violators for policing: Policing is a familiar mechanism for maintaining cooperative behaviour in human societies. This mechanism also operates in other animal societies. Among ants, the workers physically attack other workers that selfishly attempt to produce their own eggs, and by such policing keep the colony focused on cooperatively aiding the queen’s reproduction.

This teaches us to build a culture within our organisation and ensure it is strictly followed through the ranks in the organisation. At the end, it is the organisational culture that makes an organisation stand out among competitors and create a brand of its own. It creates a common ground for team members, reduces uncertainty, and contributes to a sense of continuity and unity providing a vision to the organisation. Like the ants, you need to make sure that the members’ shared values, beliefs and behaviours are guided towards a common goal and no one violates the rules.        

Concentrate your efforts on a particular value
Rhinos leave dung piles at a particular place: Rhinos are known for their habit of leaving dung piles at a particular place. Most rhinos use piles of dung to leave “messages” for other rhinos - nuances in the smell of dung can tell a rhino a lot about others in the area. Each rhino’s smell identifies its owner as unique - the smell is different for young vs. adult animals, for males vs. females, and females in estrus vs. non-reproductive females.

Likewise, don’t try to be everything. Follow certain values to establish an identity of your own. In their book “The Discipline of Market Leaders”, Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersma say, “No firm can be all things to all people and that a firm’s managers must clarify the value proposition, select a value discipline from one of three major choices and then build the right value-driven operating model to support that discipline”.

The three value disciplines that Treacy and Wiersma outline are:

  • Operational Excellence-where firms focus on price and convenience.
  • Product Leadership-where the emphasis is on creating products that consistently push performance boundaries.
  • Customer Intimacy-where firms cultivate deep relationships with their clients.

Target the decision influencers
Leapfrogging in lady beetles: Herbivores aggregate in habitats where their plant resources are optimal and avoid habitats where their predators are in abundant. The research has shown that lady beetles aggregate where their prey’s plant resources are best, even though they as predators make no direct use of the plants. This strategy is termed ‘leapfrogging’ because the predator’s attention skips over the adjacent trophic level to concentrate on the one that is two levels down.

While you are formulating your marketing strategy, not only focus on the direct buyers, the primary targets but also take care of the influencers. It’s the same old theory of a housewife influencing the husband and children influencing their parents during the purchase. Nowadays, with the influx of so many social media platforms, the decision influencers have grown by leaps and bounds. That’s the reason marketers are putting their efforts in getting the maximum number of “likes” in Facebook pages of their products and are trying their best to instigate the consumers to share the pages with their peers and friends.
Tell the competitors to stay away
Honeybees tell hornet predators to buzz off: Asian honeybees signal to their enemies - bee-eating hornets - to let them know they have been spotted. All the guard bees simultaneously vibrate their abdomens from side-to-side for a few seconds when a hornet approaches the colony. In the wild, this produces a spectacular "Mexican wave" of vibrating bees. Warned wasps would retreat from the colony and try to catch bees in flight instead.

Keep on admonishing your competitors by continually improvising your products. This not only keeps intact the interest of your customers and creates long term brand loyalty, but also makes the customers feel proud using the products. Take the example of Facebook. Its continuous improvement in terms of features, navigation and utility has not only helped it attract more than 800 million users but has also kept the competition at bay. 

I am sure there are many more animal and insect behaviour that give us clue to organise better. Please add to the list if you come across any such lessons.

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