From living in Australia for six years, my family and I have become fascinated with the Tasmanian tiger. It would not be surprising if you’ve never heard of it because the “marsupial wolf” was classified extinct before 1940. One of only two known carnivorous marsupials, it measured about 4 feet long (excluding the tail), 2.5 feet high and weighed about 50 pounds.
Originally prevalent throughout Australia, by the time Europeans settled the continent this animal’s territory was restricted to Tasmania, an island off the southeastern coast of the mainland. Then, once sheep farming was established in Tasmania, the locals hunted the Tasmanian tiger to extinction as protection for their sheep flocks. So, what does your company have to do with the tragedy of the Tasmanian tiger?
Let’s start to answer this question by examining things more deeply. This marsupial had successfully adapted to the continent’s environment, and at one point was the dominant predator. The Tasmanian tiger thrived with enough food, water, and shelter – all leading to propagation of the species. But when the dingo (an Australian coyote-like creature) arrived, it competed more successfully for the scarce resources supplied by this harsh country. The Tasmanian tiger was unable to respond sufficiently to ensure its survival. The Tiger only managed to survive in Tasmania because the dingo never reached the island.
Can you see the relationship to business now? Companies work hard to prosper. A large part of their effectiveness is the result of a strategy; one that allows them to successfully manage their environment. Once any company finds a winning approach, management naturally continues performing those activities that led to success. Executives often stop examining the environment, instead focusing on ways to better execute the strategy. For of course, there is no business success without winning execution.
Following a “tried and true” strategy works well as long as that strategy fits the environment within which the company participates. But, it makes no sense to execute a strategy that no longer fits the marketplace. I’m sure you can list companies that failed; not because of poor execution, but because they failed to reset their strategy when their environment changed. For instance, think of the Royal Typewriter company. Now I don’t know the specifics of the executives’ decisions, but I can just imagine the sales VP berating district managers and sales reps for declining sales. I see R & D managers designing new, lighter and less bulky typewriters. These managers continued to operate despite the obvious signs that their market approach was failing. No one appears to have developed a strategy to counter the monumental environmental shift created by word processing. The dingo arrived and better fit the new environment!
The take-away for you should be this. A winning strategy today will not necessarily be a winning strategy tomorrow. Just by the nature of competition, you know there is someone out there designing a strategy to take your market away from you. Your customers have ever-evolving needs. Other outside influences are equally prone to alter your environment. Failing to periodically evaluate your business environment is perilous. How can your company develop a strategy that addresses its environment if employees don’t understand it?
Don’t assume that everyone takes time to review their environment. A recent survey of over 2000 executives shows that companies are not. However, companies judged successful were twice as likely to conduct environmental scanning on a regular basis and modify their strategy based on the findings.
If your company has been suffering from an old, inappropriate strategy, can it make a comeback? Well, the die has been cast for the Royal Typewriter company. But I believe that most companies can avoid corporate extinction if they a) scan the environment, b) develop alternative strategies that better fit the environment, c) utilize an unbiased system to select the best strategy and d) execute the new strategy.
The main reason I believe companies can prevent their extinction relates back to the Tasmanian tiger. While traveling throughout Tasmania on business I spoke with the locals about this animal. One elderly woman told me that her family used to have a pet tiger. One thing about it was peculiar. The family always knew when a stranger would approach their remote farm because minutes before the stranger arrived the marsupial disappeared. They could never find the animal until after the stranger left. This makes me believe that any Tasmanian tigers in the wild today are adept at slinking away when they sense humans. We don’t see them because the animal has moved off.
But am I just believing a fantasy? You be the judge. For, I also met a forest ranger who told me he actually observed a Tasmanian Tiger family in the wild, but he has kept the location secret, because when he told his superiors they insisted he SHOOT one to prove they still exist. I have one other tidbit of proof the Tasmanian tiger still exists. Since the 1960’s there have been frequent findings of scat (animal feces) containing echidna spines (the Australian porcupine) in the wild. The only known predator of echidna is the Tasmania tiger. Check out the photo. See how wide this animal can extend its jaws? No other animal could get its mouth around the echidna’s spines.
If the Tasmanian tiger can survive extinction as I believe, so can a company that adopts a new strategy in response to its changed environment.
Photo courtesy of Australiangeographic.com