Dinosaurs and dolphins as corporate creatures

Monday, 27 February 2012 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Distinct or extinct? That is the challenge in front of us in an increasingly competitive world. It is a fact that dinosaurs only exist in movies. It is also a fact that dolphins are very intelligent and can adapt to a changing environment. Today’s column is a comprehensive look at lessons from “dinosaur exit” and “dolphin distinct” with regard to surviving and succeeding amidst surges of changes for better or for worst.  


Dinosaur details

Dinosaurs are a diverse group of animals that appeared approximately 230 million years ago. Scientist are of the view that all dinosaurs became extinct around the date of 61 million years ago which is shortly past the Cretaceous Period. No one really knows for sure on how exactly dinosaurs became extinct but there is much evidence showing a sudden stop as opposed to the dinosaurs slowly dying off. With this strange mystery, there are many theories on the possible reasons to what happened to stop their species. Some are not very realistic as many are just suggestions, and are not backed up with proof.

Evidence for social behaviour have also been found in the form of trace fossils - tracks of several dinosaur groups such as sauropods, travelling in the same direction have been found and interpreted as evidence for herding behaviour. Bonebeds of hundreds of hadrosaurs and ceratopsians also indicate that some dinosaurs travelled in large herds. Also, there is a lot of evidence that very close family members of Velociraptor could use the feathers on their arms to help turn quickly and maybe even to glide, a behaviour that eventually evolved into wing flapping and then flying.

What else can fossils and dinosaur remains tell us about behaviour? When scientists found a bunch of dinosaur nests with crushed egg shells all in one small area, it told them that dinosaurs were social animals that lived in groups. And because the eggs were crushed into very small pieces, it told scientists that the babies stayed in the nest for some time, long enough to crush the eggs. This means that the parents were taking care of the babies for some time after they were hatched, bringing them food and protecting them from predators. This is significant in relation to dinosaur behaviour.

The most known fact about the dinosaurs is that they could not adapt the changing environment. Some scientists speculate that climate change, combined with lower oxygen levels, might have led directly to the demise of dinosaurs. This is due to the simple fact that dinosaurs had enormous oxygen demands of their very large bodies.

Dinosaurs in the corporate world

There are people who resist change. It is a common factor in corporations. Change is uncomfortable. Human nature is such that there is resistance to move beyond comfort zones.  Renowned Novelist D. H Lawrence puts this so vividly: “No one fears a new idea, what they fear is a new experience,” Telling is easy and doing is difficult.

The worst part is that the corporate dinosaurs block creative ideas. They find hundreds of ways to say “no” to an initiative. These “nay sayers” have a popular practice to kill an idea. “Yes it is a good idea, but it will not work here”. This “yes-butting” is frustrating from the individual point of view and is also faulty from the institutional point of view.

Many forms of such corporate dinosaurs are seen in Sri Lankan organisations as well. In the case of public sector, overly clinging on to financial and administrative regulations in killing new ideas is a common complaint. I have met many a public administrators who say why an initiative cannot be implemented giving so many reasons without focusing on how it can be made implementable. This is in direct contrast to what Kumaratunga Munidasa, our language maestro said. “Nation without innovation will not prosper; It will lay lamenting, being unable to beg.”

In the private sector too, we can see occasionally see the presence of dinosaurs. Those who are adamant of doing a task in the old, traditional way, without changing for better would qualify to be in this category. Some of such have such a scare for technology. They hide their technical ignorance by proclaiming that they never use a mobile “as a matter of principle.”

Analogy with cheese

It reminds me of the best-selling book on change management written by Dr. Sepnce Jonson, “who moved my cheese?” It is a story of two men and two mice and how they face change. Two mice, “Sniff” and “Scurry,” and two men (miniature humans in essence), “Hem” and “Haw.” They live in a maze, a representation of one’s environment, and look for cheese, representative of happiness and success.

Initially without cheese, each group, the mice and humans, paired off and travelled the lengthy corridors searching for cheese. One day both groups happen upon a cheese-filled corridor at “Cheese Station C”. Content with their find, the humans establish routines around their daily intake of cheese, slowly becoming arrogant in the process.

We see clearly a dinosaur in Hem, where he refused to eat “new cheese”. He was not willing to let go “old cheese”. Finally he is simply starving in being a prison of his own narrow ideas.


Dolphins are marine mammals closely related to whales and porpoises. They are found worldwide, mostly in the shallower seas of the continental shelves. They are carnivores and eat  mostly fish and squid. The family of dolphins evolved relatively later, about ten million years ago, during the Miocene era.

They are among the most intelligent animals, and their often friendly appearance and seemingly playful attitude have made them popular in human culture. Dolphins are believed to be the most intelligent of all animals.  Comparatively, a dolphin is as intelligent as a two-year-old human.

Dolphins can leap above the water surface and perform acrobatic figures (e.g. the spinner dolphin). Scientists aren’t quite certain about the purpose of this behaviour, but it may be to locate schools of fish by looking at above water signs, like feeding birds. They could also be communicating to other dolphins to join a hunt, or attempting to dislodge parasites. Perhaps they just do it for fun. Play is a very important part of dolphins’ lives and they can often be observed playing with seaweed or with other dolphins.

Frequently dolphins will accompany boats, riding the bow waves. They are also famous for their willingness to occasionally approach humans and playfully interact with them in the water. There have been reports of dolphins protecting swimmers against sharks by swimming circles around the swimmers.

Social behaviour of dolphins

Dolphins are social animals, which live in pods (also called “schools”) of up to a dozen animals. In places with a high abundance of food, schools can join temporarily, forming an aggregation called a superpod. Such groupings may exceed 1000 dolphins. The individuals communicate using a variety of clicks, whistles and other vocalisations. They also use ultrasonic sounds for echolocation.

Membership in schools is not rigid and interchange is common. However, the animals can establish strong bonds between each other. This leads to them staying with injured or ill fellows for support.

Because of their high capacity for learning, humans have employed dolphins for any number of purposes. Dolphins trained to perform in front of an audience have become a favourite attraction, for example Sea World in Florida, USA. Dolphin and human interaction is also employed in a curative sense at places where dolphins work with autistic or otherwise disabled children. The military has employed dolphins for various purposes from finding mines to rescuing lost or trapped persons

Corporate dolphins

These are a preferred or perhaps badly needed and sadly missing category of employees. They are creative and take initiatives. They work in synergy with their colleagues in showing synergy in action. They act as team players in driving teams to reach great heights.

They thrive on change and in fact act like champions of change. Dynamism, flexibility and enthusiasm are visible in these managers. They are the first to come up with creative ideas, innovative solutions and novel practices. Like the intelligent dolphins these corporate creatures drive change in organisations. They are both idea generators and task implementators. In essence, they appear as thinking performers.

They appear to be a rare breed in the Sri Lankan corporate world. Thinking out of the box in coming forward with novel solutions to pressing issues is what is in high demand. Of late, an increased recognition of such devoted dolphins can be seen especially in the private sector. The case is worse in the public sector with conformance over creativity is the norm. When seniority is the criteria for promotions, more talented younger players get sidelined.  

Comparison of mindsets

It is interesting to look at how corporate dinosaurs and corporate dolphins differ in their approaches to work, McKinsey’s seven “S” framework is used as a frame of reference to key aspects of comparison. Table 1 contains the details.

The table amply demonstrates the distinct differences between the two corporate creatures. One may inquire whether a hybrid among the two is possible, but the scientists say no. It is very digital with regard to be either a dinosaur or a dolphin.

Way forward

Time has come for Sri Lankan organisations to go, grow and glow. Transitioning from a dinosaur mindset to a dolphin mindset is of utmost importance in that context. It is expected that both public administrators and business partners act accordingly in moving towards successful and sustained achievements.

(Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri is a learner, teacher, trainer, researcher, writer and a thinker in the areas of Human Resource Management and Organisational Behaviour.  He can be reached on [email protected].)

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