Life – Dinner Principle
The “Life-Dinner” principle is valid not only in the relationship between a parasite and its host, but also in a great many other inter-species and intra-species interactions. This principle was originally identified (and named) in systems of the predator and prey type. Put simply, rabbits run faster than foxes for the simple reason that they are running for their lives, while the fox is only concerned about its supper. But the rabbits always stay a little faster than the foxes; because a fox can afford to go without dinner sometimes, but a rabbit can never afford to BE dinner. So the foxes always push the rabbits to go faster. You decide which is the more potent motivator.
But, this isn’t an article about motivations, but rather a very simple principle with far reaching consequences: Priorities matter. Things survive for a reason. Existence implies viability.
Therefore we should always be on guard when given easy answers to hard questions and simple metrics to explain complex businesses. Life is much more complicated than dinner.
Rabbits, Foxes and Cuckoo Birds
Let’s draw some analogy between the culture and business by thinking deeply about things like rabbits, foxes and cuckoo birds.
Rabbits that are born slow are more likely to get eaten, enlarging the proportion of fast rabbits in the gene pool. Foxes that are fast enough to catch the slowest rabbits survive and continue to propagate, but only need to be fast enough to stay well fed.
If foxes became too efficient or rabbits became too slow, neither would survive. All of rabbits would get eaten and the foxes would either starve or have to seriously change their business model.
The cuckoo story is more bizarre. They have evolved to lay eggs that look so much like those of other birds that they are able to drop them in their nests, leaving the unsuspecting victims to do the hard work of nurturing the cuckoo offspring.
Why haven’t the other birds evolved a defense mechanism against the ruse? Most likely the costs would outweigh the benefits. They nurture far more of their own eggs than those of the deceitful cuckoos and that’s what they need to do in order to thrive.
Expending the energy of a few dinners is more than worth it when life hangs in the balance. Nature is a great optimizer.
Life and Dinner in Business
Once you become aware of the Life-Dinner principle you start seeing it everywhere. All too often, it is put in clichéd terms of “long-term vs. short-term,” but it’s really about the difference between having a true commitment to excellence and just keeping up appearances.
Consider the following example:
Leadership vs. Optimization: Optimization is about getting more of what you want with fewer resources. Leadership is about getting your people to want what you want. Leadership requires not only investment, but serious dedication to the overall mission.
It’s easy for an outside consultant to come in and optimize. Leadership doesn’t show up in excel spreadsheets and there are always ways to squeeze out a few points of margin for a few quarters. By then, the consulting project will be over and impressive ROI results will have been delivered.
Issuing directives is always easier than building a consensus. Organizational charts always look better when they are simple and streamlined. The real world, however, is quite a bit messier.
A False Choice
Many would like to pose the Life-Dinner principle as a tradeoff – do you want to eat today or tomorrow? It isn’t that simple. You have to do both. What is really at issue is whether you truly want to win or just put up stats and make it look good.
Top professional athletes understand this. They don’t ask, “Is it better to practice hard or play hard?” To be at the top of your sport, field or industry you need to constantly work to be your best every day, even when no crowds are cheering and there is no relevant balance sheet item.
Here is an important note: doing your best and being your best does not mean being at your peak at all times. There is a natural ebb and flow of our energy, attention, and intention across each day. Some days you do better thinking than on other days. Some days you are better listener than on other days. Doing your best means being the best you can be in any given moment, even if you know you have done better on other days. Similarly, being your best varies from day to day and from time to time. One cannot be upbeat and enthusiastic all the time. Being your best means getting the most out of a particular moment, even if other moments felt a lot better.
Most of us operate under a myth in business and often in life in general. We think of it as the 110% rule. There is this unfortunate and unrealistic belief on the part of many leaders that they and their people can and should show up and operate at ‘110%’ every day. The danger is that dinner is always more obvious than life. At the end of the day, you know if your belly is full or not.
So, How Do You Measure ROI?
In our quest for measurable ROI, we forget that the term is meaningless without clear objectives. Are we evaluating only for our dinner or for our life as well?
· Are we happy with brand awareness or do we also measure brand attributes such as quality, value and other category specific measures of satisfaction?
· Are we satisfied with marketing campaigns that produce sales, or are we working towards consumer advocacy?
· Do we measure only sales and profits, or are we pushing for an increasing return on capital?
Research studies have shown that the best companies spend years determining which factors drive their business. Key metrics are specific to a company’s strategy and culture and are therefore often elusive. There is no textbook answer.
Dinner is simple. Life is complicated. Don’t let anyone ever tell you differently.
Dr Surya M Ganduri, PhD. PMP. is the Founder & President of eMBC, Inc., an international firm specializing in strategic and executive leadership development processes that Help People Succeed in an Evolving World. Dr Surya has over 28 years of business experience in management consulting, leadership development, executive coaching, process improvements, organizational development and youth leadership. For more information visit www.eMBCinc.com or contact eMBC, Inc., directly at (630) 445-1321.