Learning from nature

  • SME
  • Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014

A DEER cautiously approached the river bank and the river seemed still. Nothing stirred except for other deer behind and around it.

There seemed to be no danger in sight. Yet as it lowered its head to drink from the stream, all the deer’s muscles were tensed as if prepared to bolt at a moment’s notice.

Perhaps from its own experience or from watching other deer, it knew of the danger that lurked beneath the calm façade of the river.

Still, it must drink to live. With its head barely past the edge of the river bank, the deer drank. All seemed well, for the moment.

The deer continued drinking. Although less guarded now, it remain-ed highly alert.

Suddenly, without warning, a huge crocodile sprung out from beneath the water.

My heart skipped a beat as I watched the National Geographic documentary as if it was a scene from a horror film. Those movie directors must have learned a thing or two from the crocodiles, I thought.

Fortunately, that particular deer managed to leap back just in time and escaped the crocodile’s powerful jaws. All this happened in a matter of seconds.

As I watched the slow motion playback of the scene, I thought that had the deer responded just 2 seconds slower, it would already be the crocodile’s lunch. Due to its alertness and fast response, that deer survived. But many do not.

As I watched the scene, I could not help but relate it to the risks business owners encounter.

As entrepreneurs and owners of start-up companies especially, we know that starting a business entails risk.

The more we want to grow the business, the more risk we will encounter and the more we will stand to lose.

Yet, we know if we do not grow our business, it will die anyway.

So like the deer which was aware of the danger of the crocodile-infested river, we still must ‘lower our head to drink from it’.

Yes, perhaps we can prepare ourselves. We can come up with contingency plans, strategise and think of all the ways to minimise the risk and uncertainty.

But, the truth of the matter is, we really cannot anticipate everything.

Things will still happen beyond our prediction, regardless how much foresight we try to apply.

There are things beyond our control, after all no man is all-knowing.

And like the crocodile attack on the deer, sometimes it can happen suddenly, without any warning.

Case in point, when the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) hit years ago, many of the travel businesses were totally unprepared. Some did not last.

A few years back, massive floods suddenly hit Thailand, causing a lot of damage to property and businesses alike.

It led to global supply shortages due to the major manufacturing plants affected by the floods there. The calamity happened in one country but the impact was worldwide.

The economic crisis of 2008 was another that few saw it coming.

Again, some businesses did not survive.

Or it can be something in our own backyard. Imagine running a business which is already not doing so well and suddenly a rogue employee sabotages the business, causing the company to go further into dire straits.

How will we respond and how fast can we do that to save the business?

I reflected on this in light of the recent major incident in our country and also in my own business as it enters its fifth year.

Many unforeseen situations have happened in the past few months. I had been caught off-guard by things beyond my control.

But I also learned this is part and parcel of being an entrepreneur. Every day, we are confronted by risks and not knowing with certainty how our business will end up.

I would like to think that although we cannot tell or control what will happen tomorrow, we can choose how we respond to it.

Perhaps we can take a lesson or two from the deer. We must deal with risk — there can be no escape from it.

But it is how fast we bounce back in our actions and decisions that will determine whether our business will ultimately make it.

  • The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.

Jeanisha wonders if the lessons that can be gained from the animal kingdom are the reason why some Chinese martial arts have animal styles. Talk to her at talk2jeanisha@gmail.com

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Opinion , Jeanisha Wan , Starting Out , Column


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