Nigel Toplis, managing director of the Bardon Group, spent Christmas and New Year in South Africa where he had time to reflect on his African surroundings and contemplate the strong links between nature and business.
It’s early morning on Christmas Eve and the African mist is slowly reaching the tops of the trees revealing extraordinary beauty and calm.
No matter the time or day, nature continues – repeating the events of yesterday and the day before and the day before that.
There is something reassuring, resolute and robust about nature. Regardless of what is happening in the human world, nature continues unabated.
Despite the involvement, interference, indifference and at times callousness of humans, nature’s powers of survival are phenomenal.
What can we in the business world learn from this?
At 7pm each night I am privileged to sit on our stoep (veranda) and watch hippos leaving the huge 400-yard-long lake in front of us on their way to a river outside of our estate.
Mother always goes first followed by the teenagers, then the baby and finally the biggest hippo at the back. I daren’t ask if it’s a he or she – I suspect I would get a gruff answer! Routine.
Currently, there are over 100 species of birds around the vicinity of our bungalow that come and go, singing and chattering as they attend to their daily business.
Nests are being constructed, food is being sourced, young are being ‘taught’ and in some cases ‘availability’ is being advertised.
Different birds arrive and depart at different times but the tasks remain similar – feeding, building, teaching. In the evening birds sing, tree frogs grunt, crickets screech and we are treated to nature’s very own orchestra of noise –her way of signalling the end of another day and announcing preparation for tomorrow.
But there is no ‘stop and start’ – nature simply flows and sure enough at 4:00am on the dot back come the family of hippos to their home in their lake.
A little after 7:30 in the morning a small herd of elephants cross from their ‘bedrooms’ on one side of a hill to the other to start their day’s work.
You will often find a croc sunbathing on the sandbank (see photo) minding its own business.
Interestingly, the hippos (over 30 in the lake) are often close by and crocodiles and hippos do not like each other – yet they survive in the same lake with apparently little aggro.
For us of course, this is like living in paradise but for the animals and the birds it is simply nature working at its best – not less and no more.
Business/nature – nature/business! What can we learn?
Hippos don’t rush out of the lake – they have structure and routine – to maximise their efforts.
Like nature, a well-run business also needs structure – people must know their job , how to do it, what is expected from them and how to measure their own success.
For the birds it is building a nest, gathering food, feeding the young.
Good business is more than a collection of activities – different things need doing at different times and like the birds coming and going, a business owner needs to allocate reources to tasks.
For us it’s about identifying customers, verifying the right contact, furnishing information about our business and calling to get an appointment to start a relationship.
In nature relationships are everything – hippos and crocs tolerate each other because they have an understanding.
Working together is how many species survive in the wild.
You will often see giraffes in the same vicinity as impala (deer) and as zebra – why? Because they work together to maximise their combined strength.
Giraffes can see predators from a distance, zebra have a heightened sense of smell and impala have acute hearing.
Similarly, in franchising the franchisor has tools, systems, experience and knowledge and it pays the franchisee to take advantage of these attributes.
Nothing is haphazard in nature and nothing wasted.
Lions don’t gallivant around the African heat for the fun of it.
If they are roaming, then they are hunting.
You don’t see cheetah running at 60 mph to show off to his ‘bruvs’ – if the cheetah is running then he is attacking.
And elephants never sleep they simply doze.
Nature doesn’t ‘do’ waste – be it energy, resources or time.
If you want to be successful in business, then you too need structure (business plan); you need to recognise the importance of relationships and you need to focus your energy into those areas where you will get maximum return and minimum waste.
Can we learn from nature – you betcha!