Finweek English Edition - - MANAGEMENT -

The pro­ces­sion­ary cater­pil­lar is a very un­usual crea­ture. When search­ing for food, a group of cater­pil­lars forms a sin­gle line or pro­ces­sion, one cater­pil­lar be­hind the other. Only the leader is tasked with ac­tu­ally look­ing for the next meal of pine nee­dles; the oth­ers blindly fol­low the cater­pil­lar in front.

The French nat­u­ral­ist Jean-Henri Fabre ob­served this be­hav­iour and de­cided to con­duct a fas­ci­nat­ing ex­per­i­ment. He placed a pro­ces­sion of th­ese cater­pil­lars in a cir­cle along the edge of a f lower pot so t hat ever y cater pi l l a r was fol­low­ing an­other one. There was no leader. He then placed some pine nee­dles in the mid­dle of the pot, and left them alone. Would any of the cater­pil­lars break the cir­cu­lar pro­ces­sion and move to­wards the food in the mid­dle of the pot? Or would they con­tinue cir­cling the f l ow­er­pot, fol l ow­ing t heir nat ura l in­stincts?

Amaz­ingly, the cater­pil­lars fol­lowed each other blindly for a full week, and even­tu­ally died of star­va­tion. Some­times, we’re like the pro­ces­sion­ary cater­pil­lar in Fabre’s ex­per­i­ment. We’re so in­tently fo­cused on our com­peti­tors di­rectly in front of us that we com­pletely miss the op­por­tu­ni­ties a lit­tle to the left.

We should rather ig­nore our com­peti­tors and break out of the com­pet­i­tive cy­cle. We should blaze our own trail, even if it’s risky and hasn’t been done be­fore. As Henry Ford said: “The com­peti­tor to be feared is one who never both­ers about you at all but goes on mak­ing his own busi­ness bet­ter all the time.”

Dr Gavin Sy­manowitz is an ac­tu­ary and founder of Block­busterIn­no­va­tion.com, where he cre­ated the Ideas4Re­sults Pro­gramme.

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