If ever a bird has become famous as a source of ridicule, the dodo bird has to be at or near the top of the list. I can still remember hearing about this “clumsy” bird in school. I pitied this dodo bird that became extinct because it could not fly or run fast enough from the new inhabitants of its island (known as man and the predators man introduced). The cautionary tale of the dodo bird is more complicated, however. It is not the tale of a clumsy and witless bird. It did just fine before we humans came along! Rather, it is the tale of a species that could not adapt to its complex changing environment. As such, the dodo bird has three lessons for all senior leaders and operational managers. The failure to adapt quickly and effectively to a changing business environment leads leaders and managers to extinction–be it personal career extinction or company extinction.
The dodo bird native to the island of Mauritius near Madagascar was discovered by Portuguese settlers around the 1580′s and it was extinct 100 years later. Living in isolation, the bird had no fear of man who changed its environment or of the new predators that man introduced. As a result, it became easy prey to the pigs, dogs, cats, and rats man introduced. It also could not adapt to the loss of its usual habitat at the hands of the settlers.
What then does the dodo bird teach us about the world of business? The dodo bird teaches us three important change management lessons for a rapidly changing complex environment:
Take Calculated Risks Not Reckless Risks!
Instead of running and hiding or assessing and then acting, the dodo bird stayed to meet and greet the predators that would have it for dinner! Some wariness to first assess these new creatures and determine their intentions and mode of behavior would have served the dodo bird well. The dodo bird needed to do some good data collection and then act quickly! In this time of business complexity, business leaders must act quickly to stay viable but good data and decision making skills are necessary to avoid the fate of the dodo bird. In times of complex change, thoughtful and quick calculated-risk-taking is necessary to avoid becoming someone’s dinner!
Recognize the Forces of Destruction!
The arrival of man and his predators were forces of destruction for the dodo bird. It failed to recognize these forces as destructive and the dodo bird, well, went the way of the dodo bird. The dodo became obsolete in a dynamically changing environment and then it became extinct. Companies generally have the forces of destruction already present within the organization. They can be dormant or in full display. The forces of destruction could be the company’s failure to innovate, develop new leaders, deal with destructive interpersonal dynamics, invest in critical resources, change its business model, or recognize new business trends. Senior leaders in particular need to recognize the forces of destruction in their own firms and then develop strategies to mitigate them. Ignoring these forces leads to the same fate of the dodo bird!
Adapt to the World as it is Now, Not as it Was!
The day the settlers arrived on Mauritius, the dodo bird’s peaceful life as it knew it was over. No matter how much the dodo bird may have wished for earlier happier times, those days were over. Gone were the times when the dodo bird could follow its usual routine and socialize freely. Gone were the days when the dodo bird could get its dinner of fruit and other forest menu items without any worries. Change had come to Mauritius in a big way! The dodo bird failed to adapt to the world as it had become. Senior leaders and operational managers must also adapt to the world as it is now, not as it was. Technological innovation, the four generations in the workplace, the Great Recession, global competition, social media, and the increasing power of the Internet are dynamic forces that have permanently altered the workplace. Business life as we knew it in earlier decades is over.
The much maligned dodo bird has gotten a bad reputation! No doubt for hundreds or thousands of years it did just fine managing its existence. It was the dodo bird’s failure to adapt to its rapidly changing world that caused its demise. We all can learn something from the cautionary tale of the dodo bird!
For more information about the complex change environment of our times read 10 Key Ways that the Nature of Work is Changing – Part 1 and 10 Key Ways that the Nature of Work is Changing – Part 2.