I've been asked to speak to a class of graduating business students at my old school (sounds like a Steely Dan song, but I digress).
This is a common occurrence at this time of year, but unlike most other times I've been asked, this one came with a special condition.
The condition was a simple one--given the rise of Airborne, this speech would have to provide special advice to budding entrepreneurs "who don't want to work for some 800-pound gorilla company"; in other words, a large behemoth that has 240,000 employees in 24,000 countries and tries to stomp all over the competition...and everybody else.
So I got to thinking: What's the antithesis of an 800-pound gorilla? What member of the collective zoology can be recruited to symbolize the traits and tenacity needed to start something from scratch, keep at it, and (well, I had to get the spirit of Pow! in there somehow) manage to Surprise a few people along the way?
Like half a Noah, I scraped the animal kingdom inside and out, from aardvarks to zebras and everywhere within, looking for the perfect fit. And I was stumped...until last night when I had some takeout sushi before my workout.
And there it was...laid out on a cot of rice, held in place by a ring of seaweed.
What a revelation! Just think about it. Here's a fish that looks like a giant worm, but acts more like a snake. Despite their relatively dull appearance, these slippery guys are mean monkey-mofos; almost all eels are predators, and if hungry enough, will even eat their own family. The electric eel variety are capable of generating powerful shocks, which they use for both hunting and self-defense. Ouch.
And although they lack pelvic fins and the associated skeletal structures common to their fish brethren, eels manage to rip through the water at speeds up to 30 km/hour.
No ivory towers for these guys. The CEO sharks may get their own week of glory on the Discovery Channel, but it's the eels who are the unsung streetfighters.
So let's compare the qualities common to both the entrepreneur and the eel:
--Fast as hell
--Hard to catch (despite the sushi...)
The most important factor though, and greatest similarity between eel and entrepreneur, is HOW they move.
As mentioned before, the eel is a speedy little critter. It knows where it wants to go, and gets there fast.
But NEVER in a straight line.
The wiggle of the eel is an important part of is physiology and its survival. Same with an entrepreneur. Having your eyes on the prize, but not being glued to a set roadmap and direction, is what separates the successes from the failures.
True entrepreneurs roll with the punches...and there are many. Markets swing, tastes change and general shift just happens. True entrepreneurs can change direction often and rapidly, without losing sight of where they're going.
And how to get back there if they're knocked wildly off course.
And how to find a new place to go if the original destination is blocked.
Just like the eels do it.
Obviously, I still have to add to the speech, but at least I have found a mascot for entrepreneurs everywhere. (One that shares a common initial to boot!)
I'm no fool though. I accept that on the corporate battlefield, an 800-pound gorilla can still stomp all over an eel.
Provided, of course, it can actually catch one...