There is a story told about a professional hunter who had a friend who always wanted to go with him on one of his hunts. So one day he said to his friend, “I have a permit to go into the Zambezi Valley and hunt for a buffalo. Would you like to come with me?”
The friend was ecstatic at the opportunity.
“When do we go?” he asked.
“In about six months time, but before then I have to train you about hunting.”
For the next six months, the two men met every day, and they discussed and planned for the trip. The hunter’s friend was surprised by how meticulous the hunter was about everything.
He taught him about the bush, and how to survive in it. He taught him everything about buffaloes.
“You must respect the buffalo,” he said, “because it’s a very intelligent animal, and it is also extremely dangerous.”
He gave him lots of books to read, about hunting and buffaloes.
During that time, the friend also trained every day at the shooting range. He understood by then the different types of guns used to hunt buffalo. He also had to do fitness training, which surprised him.
“You can die out there if you are not fit,” his friend explained.
He was totally astounded by what he was learning about hunting.
“Until now, I thought all you do is just go out and shoot, but now I know there’s more to this than meets the eye!” he exclaimed.
When the day came, the two men set out into the wild bush of the Zambezi Valley, one of the most beautiful places on the earth. It is also inhospitably hot, and the terrain is tough.
They’d been tracking one single animal for 5 days, and the hunter’s friend was totally exhausted. He watched as his friend patiently made meticulous plans every single day. The hunter seamed to take forever, from the point of view of his friend. Sometimes they would walk, and sometimes they would sit for hours. The hunter was always looking around, scanning the bushes, not even (it appeared) always paying attention to the surrounding areas more than the buffalo.
“Why can’t he just shoot and we go home!?”
He was getting tired of this, as they walked almost 50 miles a day. He was also hungry most of the time, as they only ate rations of dried meat and fruit, most of the time. The hunter looked at the animal through his gun sight over and over every day, but wouldn’t take a shot. Sometimes they appeared so close, but he still did not do anything.
It was the fifth day: The animal was in sight again, but the hunter was going through his routine again. The friend sat in the bushes, when suddenly a rabbit appeared in front of him and he thought to himself, “At least if I shoot this rabbit, we can have meat tonight. I’m tired of dry rations.” So he pulled out his gun and fired once. The rabbit disappeared, as he had missed anyway, but so did the buffalo, and with it, the entire herd.
The hunter looked at him in total horror and disbelief!
Then he shouted, “Run, or you die!” as he took off.
They almost got stampeded by an entire herd that seemed to appear from nowhere. Also, suddenly there were lions everywhere that he had not seen before! But for the skills of the hunter, who led them both to safety, they could have died.
The buffalo was gone. The hunt was over.
They had to return home, empty-handed.
There are at least 5 business lessons I want you to extract from this story of the buffalo hunter
- We don’t approve of hunting. So remember, this is a business story.
- Whatever you are trying to do in business, you must always be acutely aware that there are competitors out there, these are the “lions” of our story. The experienced Hunter knew they were there. He had to choose a moment when he could get the job done in such a way, that he would not have simply fed some hungry lions. This is what you call “the wisdom of the hunt”; it’s much more than an issue of timing.
- Don’t forget the herd:
The Hunter was interested in a particular animal, and not just any buffalo in the herd. He never lost sight of that particular animal, once he had selected it. He also understood at all times that the greatest protection of a buffalo comes from the herd (the other Buffaloes). The “herd” could be the environment, or the regulators, and all those who want to protect the status quo. These are those forces that the buffalo can call on for protection. The experienced Hunter knew that the “herd” was there and had to be navigated. If it was spooked, the unintended consequences could be disastrous.
Every major new business initiative has to face the “herd” at some time: Uber is at war with taxi operators around the world. Google faces regulators in Europe.
- The “friend” here could be a member of your team, or staff. You must choose people who not only understand that you are on a buffalo hunt, but also what it takes to secure the prize. More often than not, you will find that whilst people will understand the vision when you start off, once the going gets tough, they replace that vision with their own narrow vision of the rabbit hunt.
These are the people who start to moan and question your strategy behind the scenes. It takes great leadership to keep everyone in the buffalo hunt.
- If you really want to understand the story of the “Buffalo Hunter”, go study the struggles of Moses, as a leader. He had to deal with “rabbit hunters”, and others who thought they were also good (if not better hunters). Some simply wanted to go back!