They call them Unicorns—privately held technology companies valued at one billion dollars or more based on a disruptive idea that might ... or might not work.
Who wouldn’t want to be the Unicorn of their industry? These darlings of the business press and investment community get to grow as fast as they can on someone else’s dime.
You, however, operate in a world of uncertainty, upheaval and intense competition. New ideas must be protected, and they must earn their keep with disciplined execution.
Unicorns are wondrous creatures when you encounter them, but the surer path to flourishing in the future lies in the example of a real animal, rather than a mythical one.
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 mysterious like the wolf. It isn’t as cute as the mice or penguins inhabiting other business parables. But, the coyote is an ideal model for flourishing in the face of uncertainty and upheaval. Unlike other animals, coyotes have flourished even as their territory has been invaded by a stronger species and their food supply is compromised. There is a bounty on their head in many places.
Here are seven coyote traits to emulate if you want to flourish in the future:
- 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 thrive in forests, mountains and urban areas. They could have given up in the face of competition for their environment. Instead, they shifted to succeed.
- Opportunistic problem solvers: 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 are hard-wired to see a problem and solve it. You can do that, too, by creating and sustaining a culture that rewards finding new ways to be faster, better, cheaper and friendlier in pursuit of your vision.
- Aware of their surroundings: It is hard to surprise a coyote. They can detect food and danger up to a mile away. They know you are coming before you know that they are around. Is your company aware of potential danger and opportunity? The chances of your business being disrupted are reduced when you make awareness a priority.
- Speedy: Coyotes can run at a respectable 40 mph—fast enough for them to avoid predators and catch their prey. Has your business added extra weight and baggage in the forms of cumbersome approval processes, over analyzing information and micromanagement that deters empowerment?
- 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. In business, this trait translates to immense pride and ownership for results. Coyotes instinctively know the “why” that drives their performance. You will have to instill that sense of ownership in your company.
- Secretive when it serves them: Coyotes can hide in plain sight, and they will even walk on their toes to keep their prey from hearing them. This trait is crucial in a world where competitors are looking to copy your strategies and ideas. Unicorn companies often relish in the hype that comes with publicity. Coyote companies would rather be well-run than well-known.
- Versatile when working to succeed: Coyotes usually work alone or in small packs. But they will hunt 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. Collaboration within the organization is the minimum. Organizations that thrive in the future will strategically partner with competitors to achieve a greater goal.
The best organizations in the future will flourish in any environment and condition. What are you doing today to become a coyote?