Problem solving

In business, it’s squirrels vs hippos – which are you?

- October 13, 2016 4 MIN READ

It’s not easy running a business. Business challenges constantly pop up from nowhere. Some of us take to these business challenges with the wit of a cunning squirrel. Others bumble about like blindfolded hippos in search of a muddy swamp.

What separates the squirrels from hippos in business?

Really, it’s very simple:

1. When squirrels sense danger, they pause before dashing to the nearest tree for safety. A hippo, on the other hand, charges right into the heart of the chaos.

When my website decided to have a meltdown just as my latest ad campaign kicked in, I didn’t jab at the refresh button on my keyboard so hard it dislodged. I didn’t phone my hosting company and abuse the poor intern who only took my call because his mentor had snuck out for a ciggie. And when my biggest client refused to pay their bill for no sensible or apparent reason, I didn’t make threats to send some random bikie hit man over to collect up.

No. I swore (several times) before taking a deep breath, assessing the risk and considering the best route to safety. Could my ad campaign be postponed until the website problems were fixed? Was there a payment plan or compromise I could offer my client? Was it worth involving the (non-bikie type) debt collectors?

Because I reminded myself, successful business owners avoid collision through applying logic and problem solving.

2. Squirrels hoard food in different locations and return in the winter months when it’s scarce. Hippos eat every night and wallow about in the day.

The hippo’s biggest problem? Besides being lazy and a little on the stumpy side – it starves when there’s a drought.

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It’s easy to get carried away in the daily grind; responding to emails, processing sales orders, paying bills and – in my case when feeling particularly unmotivated – nipping to the gym, slipping incognito to the movies or out for a long, leisurely (occasionally drunken) lunch …

The problem with this approach is that our businesses merely exist. There’s little foresight, perception, planning or development. They just tick along until the cash flow dries up because a major client refuses to pay their bill or our websites have a meltdown …

As business owners, we have to manage cash flow while keeping our fingers on the pulse. It’s a rollercoaster ride, we’re seated in the front row and sometimes we have no idea whether we’re headed up or down. Those who make it the long haul find a balance between a more reactive, short-term focus and creating informed, long-term strategies. They learn from their mistakes, use hindsight to better their business practices and form a vision for the future. And their businesses thrive through passion, toil and sweat.

Only occasionally do they get drunk 🙂

3. Squirrels twitch their tails and whistle to communicate. Hippos grunt and honk.

When one of my more challenging clients called me the other day to ask where the hell their copy was, I didn’t yell back saying it wasn’t my problem they’d only sent me the brief two nights’ before. Or remind them they hadn’t answered half of the questions and that they had a really, really bad product that no person in their right mind would buy …

No. I used the squirrel’s more subtle approach. I listened. Allowed my client to vent (who knows what mental crisis they were going through). Then I remained calm and rational as I explained what I needed and why this approach worked better for them too.

How we communicate is everything in business. The way we market our products and services. The way we interact when trying to persuade them to register or buy. And when we’re dealing with difficult personalities, it’s easy to respond defensively. But in doing so, we’re letting the dumbest part of us manage some of our most important relationships. It’s better to remain calm and clear in our intentions so that we drive the reaction we want.

4. Squirrels claim their territory by rubbing their oral glands to leave their scent. Hippos fling dung.

Actually, I have no idea how to translate that one into meaningful business terms.

5. While squirrels chase away their competition, hippos bite or trample anything that gets in their way.

Besides the fact it’s not appropriate to bite your competition, you’re likely to end up facing a lawsuit or being thrown in jail. What you need to do is outperform and outwit your competition. That means keeping ahead by being better, smarter and faster. Know who they are and what they’re up to. Create a stronger brand. Stand out. Use effective SEO strategies. Vamp up your marketing. Look for new business opportunities. Improve your practices. Have a vision. Be the best you can be!

6. Squirrels run in erratic paths to fool potential predators. Hippos just, well, wallow.

Again, I don’t mean literally. You’d look ridiculous zigzagging your way to work or hurtling up the freeway swapping lanes every ten metres. But, as business owners, we do have to protect ourselves from threats such as website hackers and jealous rivals. If we remain complacent, we’re easy to ambush. This means ramping up website security, protecting confidential information and throwing competitors off the scent – especially before launching new products or services.

But the truth is …

There’s probably a bit of squirrel and hippo in each of us. To even embark on this soloist lark takes some cunning, after all. And hippos know how to relax, how to have fun. If all we do is squirrel away without enjoying what we’ve achieved – where’s the glory in that?

Over to you,

Be honest now, when faced with business challenges, are you more hippo or squirrel?