The French naturalist John Fabre is best known for his scientific work with caterpillars. In one of his experiments, Fabre lined up caterpillars around the rim of a flowerpot filled with soil and needles, the natural food of the caterpillar. Then he watched to see what would happen.
The caterpillars, known for their habitual behavior, began following each other around the rim of the pot…
…around and around and around the flowerpot…for seven straight days.
One by one, the processionary caterpillars as they are now known, followed each other right into starvation. Not a single one detoured off course to find the food which was merely inches away.
Over the past few years as I’ve worked with business owners and executive-level managers, I’ve come to believe that there’s a little bit of processionary caterpillar in all of us. Being an entrepreneurial type myself, I certainly don’t like to admit my processionary tendencies. But truth be told, there are places even in my own businesses where doing the same, comfortable thing that everyone else is doing sure feels a lot safer than venturing out to see if there’s good stuff waiting for me beyond the rim of my flower pot.
It is in economically uncertain times that this safety behavior becomes even more pronounced. We hunker down, pull back from innovation, and go into survival mode.
While I am not advocating that business owners abandon careful spending during economically uncertain times, I also believe that now—more than ever before—is not the time to get stuck in safe actions…but rather, to focus on actions that have impact.
How can you recognize impact when you see it? Here are three tips that can help. Put them to work in your business, and you’ll be able to more easily see which adventuresome paths are worth the exploration, even when you might feel safer on the rim.
- Understand what it is that you do well and how it is that you and your company really get results. Things that take you away from that core focus may not be affordable risks right now, whereas something that enhances that strength could be worth further exploration.
- Discuss profit centers with your accountant or internal budget guru. Which product or service lines give you the easiest return on your investment? Push forward there.
- Build feedback mechanisms. If your information loop for personal or team performance consists of just an annual budget or supervisory review, now is the opportunity to put something in place that gives you frequent data on exactly what’s working and what’s not. That information is absolutely essential to making sound business decisions.
There may not be as many adventurous caterpillars during a downturn, but those who are able to make calculated risks and break free from habituated safety behaviors are often richly rewarded. iBi