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Pigeon Paradox – How is it Relevant to the Corporate World?

  • May 27, 2019
Pigeon Paradox
Pigeon Paradox

“Leaders always have the courage to make unpopular decisions and gut calls” – Jack Welch

The animal world has always fascinated me. They live, adapt with alarming quickness with a laser-sharp focus on survival. Survival could mean a range of things for them, from trusting a leader among them blindly to fighting their own peers, keeping their young ones constantly on the move to making hiding spaces for them. I cannot help but see the many lessons that an entrepreneur could pick up from this fascinating world.

This observation is about the pigeon paradox.

I had just returned from a feeding-ground scouring exercise (read as new markets) from the US. My long absence had them piling up many stories and experiences to share with me- one of them an excited recounting of a pigeon beginning its life on our windowsill. Words spilled and collided with each other as one of them pulled out a recording of the entire episode of the squab breaking free from its egg. Needless to say, their excitement was unbridled from the fascination of watching a birth – wholly, uninterruptedly.  Their excitement refused to abate because- wasn’t it amazing how the squab tried to open its eyes, how the mom sat over the newborn warming it’s new chick, how the chick snuggled up the older one born a couple of days earlier, how the chick opened its mouth with its eyes closed, and of course – how much they pooped!

The story was ideally happily ever after living as a family. But here was the twist.

The girls found out during one of their 2-minute rounds to the nest and discovered to their horror that one of the squabs had fallen off the nest. A rescue mission began with a team quickly put together- my wife, the girls, their grandmother, the watchman, their 3 kids, the mission succeeded, and the squab arrived safely back into its nest.  Everyone breathed a sigh of relief!

What followed was an utter shock. The squab was back alive, but the mom completely ignored it.  The other healthy and unwounded chick got all the mother’s attention ( and hard-earned food), but this poor thing had to endure hunger along with the wounds. The girls were disappointed and confused, which culminated in anger at the mom pigeon! “How can she do this?”, “The poor thing is already hurt!”

After 2 days of grief, I had to step in. Darwin came to my rescue, while I helped them battle their emotions to finally see that only the fittest could survive. The mom had a limited supply of food, and she already knew that the wounded chick would not survive, even with food! She took a hard decision and decided to feed only her strong child, to maximize his chances of survival.

Time flew, the squab became a pigeon and she flew away too!

I ruminate a lot about the leadership qualities of animals and how they relate to the ones that lead organizations. Some stellar work from Charles C Cowden who relates to ecology and symbiotic relationships had even inspired me to essay a book on how Entrepreneurship and Animal Behavior/Qualities are closely entwined.

As I see it, this one episode has tons of takeaways for any entrepreneur.

The pigeon took an unpopular and gut-level decision knowing the wounded one won’t be able to make it to flight and decided to save up her resources for the ones that would.  She was the mother to both but made a tough decision without batting an eyelid! Even to the effect of driving her own offspring to death.

A C-level executive is no different than the pigeon, often having to make such tough decisions within an organization. Making such unpopular decisions driven by visceral and guttural feelings on retaining some products. They often have to divert resources to products that will survive the competition, often killing the products that won’t make it.  A paradoxical situation that a C-level executive lives all through his career!

Am so fascinated with the similarities that I would be exploring more in this space eventually.

Watch this space for the next in the series – “How to be a Corporate Cockroach”.

About the Author

Ramanan is 51% technologist and 49% creative. He is a polymath and comes with 18-plus years of experience in both technology and marketing/communications.

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