Fifteen years ago my wife and I were on safari in Africa. We were living in a tent about 20 yards from where a family of hippos called home in a section of the Mara River in Kenya. For much of our time, we were accompanied by a Maasai warrior who explained many of the habits and behaviors of the animals we encountered. It was fascinating to learn about the clever ways various animals adapt and survive. For example, you’ll often see a smaller species travel with a taller one. Because the smaller often cannot see over the savanna grass, they watch, and rely on, the taller species to alert them to threats. There is also the “two-headed beast”, a pair of ibexes that stand on a termite mound and watch each other’s back.
The one story that resonated most with me was how they capture wildebeest (typically to be relocated to reserves and conservancies). A wildebeest is a large, fast, powerful animal. An adult male will weigh almost 600 pounds, while the more delicate female weighs in about 100 pounds less. However, they are captured by simply locating an area with several trees, tying a rope from tree to tree to tree (at about a six-foot height), hanging blankets over the ropes, and chasing one or more of the animals into that area. The wildebeest, interpreting the blankets as solid objects, simply gives up and resigns itself to being caught.
As I reflected on the story I thought “I’ve met a LOT of wildebeests in my career!” I started to pay more attention and began to realize just how prevalent self-limiting philosophies and behaviors are, including in owners and CEOs.
This is manifested in everything from not achieving a result because “I emailed them and never heard back (so I did nothing)”, to “We’ll never be able to achieve that growth, so let’s settle for a smaller goal.”
Anyone who did anything great usually set out to do so, and always believed they could. At one point in my career I was part of a team that did 60 acquisitions in a two-year period, and increased the market cap of the company by over a Billion dollars. The first ingredient necessary to do so was to believe we could. So I chuckle when I’m told by owners that there’s no way you can do more than one acquisition in a year.
To everyone out there…Don’t be a wildebeest! You’re far more powerful than you think you are, and more often than not, that brick wall you see is only a blanket hanging over a rope. Lower your shoulder and take a good run at it before you convince yourself it can’t be done.