The motto used to “slow and steady win’s the race.” Applied to a business perspective, it taught entrepreneurs to build their business brick by brick – that success meant waking up everyday to do the same thing, and once you’ve made it you keep doing the same thing. This is the ‘elephant’ mindset; the mindset of the company that keeps moving forward with one set goal, a company that isn’t thwarted by changes in the landscape.
Today, taking on the elephant role exclusively guarantees business failure. Sure, the elephant business model works if there weren’t as many competitors. If yours was the only shop in the neighborhood and people relied on you exclusively, then the elephant’s the way to go. Now, however, we’re seeing business competition at its most aggressive rate in history. Calling the new marketplace a competitive jungle, innovation experts Vijay Govindarajan and Srikanth Srinivas would argue in favor of a jaguar model of business.
Having recently published a piece in the Harvard Business Review, “Finding Your Place in the Competitive Jungle,” Govindarajan and Srinivas advocate the need for business innovation based on the value of a company’s speed in terms of innovation. In an x-y graph they showcase they correlation between a company’s speed and the direct link with innovation; when a company excels, their rate of innovation is high while conversely low if they’re lagging in the marketplace. Following an animal model, the article cites that an elephant is the most difficult model for any company today, with words like overconfident, complacent, and even arrogant, attributed to it. On the other hand, a jaguar by nature if far removed from these attributes. A jag is always on alert because it recognizes its position relation to every other animal in the jungle. It knows that if it doesn’t observe and move forward, it’ll end up on the lowest link of the food chain. In a business framework, if you’re not innovating, you’re not moving forward.
Govindarajan and Srinivas also direct companies to realize two-fold challenges they face: shortened product life-cycles and increased business technology that can impact core business models. If for no other reasons, these two pivotal challenges are enough of a call to action for companies to shed the elephant model and adapt an ever-vigilant jaguar model that uses speed to push a rate of innovation.
The two push through several models before resting on the jaguar as pivotal for today’s thriving business. They mention the rabbit model, noting a high speed of innovation that doesn’t translate into size. This means that rapid innovation itself can be destructive if it customers can’t keep pace with the company. If this is your problem, they suggest asking yourself key questions like:
- Why isn’t speed translating to size?
- Do you understand customer value?
- Is your innovative model really leading to any leapfrogs?
- Is usability stifling growth?
- Is the message lost or miscommunicated?
- Are customers having trouble grasping the idea? Do they need more education?
- Does the product need to be ‘toned down’ without sacrificing value?
This isn’t to say that the elephant model is completely obsolete. In a different context, the elephant offers stability in a climate that sometimes can be too fickle, whose landscape casts so many shadows and plays with light in a deceiving way that makes us believe we should change our direction when staying on course is really the better move. The elephant model also shouldn’t be confused with the tortoise model, the real snail’s pace animal in the jungle analogy. Success today doesn’t mean being one thing or another. It means being a chameleon. It means adapting when we need to adapt, and being smart enough to realize the need for change. In this case, it means realizing the urgent role innovation plays in keeping your business afloat and thriving.
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