This morning I was walking around my farm in Uruguay and saw a small owl standing on a post. As I approached the owl stood still until it seems I crossed a threshold that the owl considered potentially dangerous and it flew away. I watched the owl fly away on to another post from which to look for small animals to hunt and thought of the decision making that had just taken place. While the owl was on the lookout for prey, when I came close I became a potential predator myself. This situation is not too dissimilar to many I face in the telecoms business when I judge a market ripe for taking yet are concerned about the larger predators and their responses. Is entrepreneurship based on risk analysis techniques that are shared with many in the animal world? Probably.
Al Gore spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative. His main argument was that Hurricane Katrina proved two things: firstly, that global warming is creating stronger storms; secondly, that government has an essential role to play in preventing and/or alleviating these types of tragedies. Al Gore spoke with tremendous emotion, uncharacteristic of him during his candidacy. How he has transformed! He says that the United States is to blame not only for being the greatest polluter of the planet but for being the country doing the least to change. He is asking for a transformation of the American Economy. He believes that Katrina is the first taste from a bitter cup that will be forced to taste from again, and again and again. He urges the US Government to act. He says that this is a legitimate and necessary role for the government to assume.
I was thinking about people who have made significant amounts of money and their success strategies. I was then comparing those strategies to animals and their offspring and their success strategies. And this is what I found.
If you go through the list of the richest people in the world and take out the heirs focusing on self made (mostly) men, you would see that you can divide wealthy individuals into two main strategies of money making. One is the entrepreneur who has built one or very few businesses, as for example, Michael Dell or Bill Gates. The other one is the trader, who has not managed large organizations and has made thousands of investments in which good ones exceed bad ones, example: George Soros. These individuals have very different strategies and yet when measured by money achieved they have similar results: they are all among the richest people in the world.
Now let´s shift to the animal kingdom. In the animal kingdom the same two strategies appear. Mammals have very few offspring in their lifetime, even the most prolific mammals cannot be compared to any insect, for example, in the amounts of offspring that they have during a lifetime. In my analogy, the entrepreneurs are the mammals and the traders are the insects. Mammals as we know, care for their newborn, feed them, protect them and stay with them for a significant part of their life. Mammals cannot afford many mistakes (dead offspring) as their genes would not prevail in future generations if they did. Insects however frequently accept failure, they play a game of chance, lay thousands of eggs and leave hoping that at least more than a few survive. Interestingly both strategies work and yet in terms of personality they make very different type of animals…traders and entrepreneurs I mean.
When I look around at the people I know I see this division. There´s the traders, and there´s the entrepreneurs. Both can be as successful, but their lifestyles and personalities are completely different. Traders tolerate failure as part of their daily routine. Traders base their success in the frequency of transactions. Very successful traders make an incredible amount of trading decisions. Entrepreneurs on the other side make very few decisions, but they spend much more time thinking, studying, comparing, contrasting, analyzing. Entrepreneurs can´t be as frequently wrong. They don´t have too many chances to pass on their genes.
We have all heard about plate tectonics, the theory that explains how the crust of the earth is divided into moving parts that crash causing earthquakes along its edges. What this theory says is that the earth is made of seven large plates and many small plates that move in different directions in three different ways: they converge, diverge, or transform (as they crash). While this may be purely a coincidence, it appears to me that human beings, in their evolution, have also developed cultural tectonic plates. If we divided the world in “cultural tectonic plates” meaning groups of people linked by language, religion, politics, history or what we define as culture, we would also have seven major cultural plates and some smaller ones. These seven plates would be:
“Human beings are the only animals that can harm at a distance.” This is a phrase out of the book. I complement it with one of my own. Human beings are the only animals whose greatest possibility of harm comes from members of their own species. Even the most dangerous animals need not fear their kind. Lions don´t fear lions; sharks don´t fear sharks; yet, even having swam this morning among sting rays I know that if any other animal ever harms me (bacteria aside) it will be another human being.
Interestingly, I learned that Tikehau is a case in point. Until 100 years ago cannibalism was practiced here. Cannibalism was an ancient practice in Polynesia only recently banned by Europeans. It seems that Polynesia had many kings, or a king per island or group of islands, and there´s over 100 islands in this vicinity. These kings, or A´ri as they were called when they wanted to rule another island, would first propose to the fellow king some kind of deal of submission. Now, more often than not, it turns out that the fellow king would not agree to it and he and his subjects would fight for their independence…and lose. And losing meant becoming the conquering king´s lunch! As crazy as this seems, somehow being here on such a tiny island, cannibalism makes a little more sense to me. When a population invaded an island and ate their people first, as disgusting as it sounds, they got fed. But secondly and most importantly, they eliminated a rival population from competing for the same basic resources…food and fresh water. Still, animals as far as I know, have not arrived at his “realization.”
We are genetically programmed to grow, we are also genetically programmed to age… and die. Why is this the case? As much as I hate knowing that I am programmed to age and die (I´ve grown already) I can see how death is essential for evolution. Death, whether we like it or not, is the measure of our evolutionary success. If evolution is the survival of the fittest, timing of death is the metrics of survival or non survival. If a specie was evolved in a way that it´s individuals lived forever, then how could we know who the fittest individual is?
I was thinking about the animal world the other day and there are many different ways that animals attack each other.