Dinosaurs vs. dolphins

Monday, 19 August 2013 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 change for the better or worse. Dinosaur details Dinosaurs are a diverse group of animals that appeared approximately 230 million years ago. Scientists are of the view that all dinosaurs became extinct about 61 million years ago, shortly past the Cretaceous period. No one really knows for sure how exactly dinosaurs became extinct but there is much evidence that shows a sudden stop as opposed to the dinosaurs slowly dying off. With this strange mystery, there are many theories as to how the species became extinct. Of these theories, some are not very realistic as many are just suggestions, and are not backed by proof. Evidence for social behaviour has 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. Bone-beds of hundreds of hadrosaurs and ceratopsians also indicate that some dinosaurs travelled in large herds. Also, there is a lot of evidence to show that very close family members of the 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 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 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 to the changing environment. Some scientists speculate that climate change, combined with lower oxygen levels, might have led to the demise of dinosaurs. This is due to the simple fact that dinosaurs had enormous oxygen demands for 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. It’s a popular practice amongst these ‘nay-sayers’ to kill an idea. “Yes, it is a good idea but it will not work here”: This ‘yes-butting’ is frustrating from the individual’s point of view and is also faulty from an 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, thus the killing of new ideas is a common complaint. I have met many public administrators who say an initiative cannot be implemented and give many reasons, without focusing on how the idea could be made implementable instead. This is in direct contrast to what Kumaratunga Munidasa, our language maestro, said: “A nation without innovation will not prosper; it will lay lamenting, being unable to beg.” In the private sector too, we can occasionally see the presence of dinosaurs. Those who are adamant about doing a task in the old, traditional way, without changing for better, would qualify to be in this category. Some people have a scare for technology. They hide their technical ignorance by proclaiming that they never use a mobile “as a matter of principle”. Dolphins 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 10 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 surface of the water and perform acrobatic feats (for example, the spinner dolphin). Scientists aren’t quite certain about the purpose of this behaviour but it maybe 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 in circles around the swimmers. Social behaviour of dolphins Dolphins are social animals that live in pods (also called ‘schools’) of up to a dozen animals. In places with a high abundance of food, schools join temporarily, forming an aggregation called a superpod. Such groupings may exceed 1,000 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 the injured or ill for support. Because of their high capacity for learning, humans have employed dolphins for a 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 through 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 implementers. 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, coming forward with novel solutions to pressing issues, 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 being 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. Way forward The 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 works at the Postgraduate Institute of Management. He can be reached on ajantha@pim.lk or www.ajanthadharmasiri.info.)