By Amanda Khoza, Divisional Director: Transformation & Inclusion, Liberty Group
Birding (or birdwatching for those not in the know), may seem to be a fruitless pastime amidst the many challenges of life. However, when I conjure it up in my mind and envision the experience of birders, it presents itself as a welcome reprieve and distraction from the harsh ugly reality of clipped wings, the stationary, the dull, the silenced, the wingless. I ponder on Maya Angelou’s “I know why the caged bird sings” and picture the contemplative constraining space of life’s trappings and the freedom and opportunity in roaming outside of confinement but only within the boundaries of your natural capability and inclinations.
It’s amazing that there are more than 9,000 varieties of bird species that have been identified in the world, and more so that about 50 million Americans go birdwatching every year. As birders traverse different terrains, checking sketches for identity markers and ululating in triumph for each unique sighting, birding reminds us that life can be lived on or off the ground. That a moment’s sighting can help connect you to blue sky thinking or remind you of the predatory cycle of life where it all depends on what type of bird you are. This is a thought I mulled on recently on how we show up in the world and what type of bird we would be classified as during a business moment.
Heston Blumenthal’s famous Fat Duck restaurant in the UK has 3 Michelin stars – a mark of distinction representing exquisite cuisine. A meal at this restaurant can set you back 400 pounds – more than double the average monthly salary of many South Africans. Not much is written about the naming of the restaurant. Ducks are quackers, loud and seemingly lazy and plump for the eating. Then again, an interesting characteristic about them is that their calm on water movements is often mistaken as unseen paddling for control. In truth, ducks float in stable water. Being a fat duck in business may mean you carry your weight with confidence, calm and control in various situations. When the water is troubled, your paddling skills will be called to action. You need to know how to react in various torrents and be well-equipped to navigate the waters. Ducks may physically lack the grace of swans, but their demeanour can be just as self-assured and their quack establishes this more profoundly. You can choose to be a sitting fat duck, debunking the myth that ducks float; remain poised and professional, and paddle when needed.
Ostrich in the sand
That ostriches bury their heads in the sand is an optical illusion that is the basis of much indecisiveness, obliviousness and ignoring reality. This act of lowering of its head is sometimes to collect and swallow sand, stones and pebbles to help grind up their food. Start seeing the ostrich in the sand moment as a time to collect nuggets of life; those things that you can call up to deal with various encounters of life. Ostriches also bury their eggs in the sand – this is to protect and to turn them every so often in their readying for hatching. A business person needs to have new ideas, products and services that need to be birthed for their business to thrive and stay relevant. In preparation, they therefore need to put their head down “into the sand” and develop their plans for the birth. Any premature birth may stifle future innovation whilst purposeful ostrich in the sand planning can only make a business better.
In the wetlands of Australia, black swans with white flight feathers are a common sighting. There is a rarity connotation attached to black swan events as popularised by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a Wall Street trader. Events that have been classified as random, unexpected and inconceivable – which create risk uncertainty and can have high negative or positive impact. This unknown of the unknown is statistically insignificant and infrequent, but their occurrence is mystically certain. Swans are graceful, beautiful and even mythically believed to sing as they die. Most comfortable in water, despite their weight they are known to build flying speed and take flight comfortably. A business person with a black swan mentality is not necessarily one who prepares for a crisis, in this instance you don’t know what the crisis may be so there’s no reference or past learnings that can inform the risk management process. What is critical is to psychologically take on a survivorship demeanour that requires one to truly see what is actually happening and not what is expected. Thinking of unconventional possibilities as well as optimism to succeed is the best strategy to employ to counteract shock and to again take flight comfortably.
You may have to adopt any of these bird personalities in each nesting season of business that you find yourself in. Don’t miss the opportunity to show up adequately. Tweet, tweet!
Amanda Khoza is the Divisional Director: Transformation & Inclusion at Liberty Group, based in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is a passionate advocate for economic empowerment, financial literacy, and believes in the power of entrepreneurship to make real and lasting societal change happen on the African continent. Amanda is championing a host of initiatives for women entrepreneurs in South Africa, including partnering with Lionesses of Africa on the Lioness Lean In Liberty Sessions programme for intrapreneurs at Liberty, supporting The Mix newsletter each month as an impact partner, and joining with Standard Bank as the impact partners for the Lionesses of Africa Accelerator programme series in Johannesburg.
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