The stereotypical ant represents the digital, nose-to-the-grindstone type – on-task, orderly, organized, and consistent. That sounds good, but when it comes to adapting and innovating quickly, the ants are out of their element. They prefer life on auto-pilot.
While out on my morning walk recently, I saw a line of ants marching busily along at the bottom of a crevice in the road. The crack was tiny to me, but to the ants it was a fairly deep canyon that made it impossible to see anything but the butt of the next ant in line. In addition, the road they traveled was so narrow that they couldn’t turn around. Their only option was to keep marching ahead with no way of looking back at where they had been or ahead to where they were going. Rote productivity.
I had a momentary urge to block their path to see what they’d do. Remember the scene in A Bug’s Life when the path to the food pile gets momentarily blocked and the next ant in line panics because he doesn’t know what to do? Need a refresher? Hit the 2-minute mark of this video:
Though the idea of having dutiful and productive ants as employees might be initially appealing, those types of drones just don’t cut it in today’s ever-changing marketplace. Successful companies don’t ascribe to the business-as-usual model. They climb out of their crack in the road and look around at the big picture. Here are three ways you can do the same:
Experiment: Running your business based on the status quo is a sure death sentence. Instead, encourage creativity and unique problem-solving methods. Don’t discount the “crazy” ideas. You may need to implement with care and fall-back plans, but sometimes those ideas are the ones that put your business in a league of its own. Give employees the tools, time, and permission to brainstorm new ideas and a forum where they can share and vet them. Test, test, and test some more until you find a winning solution.
Exit the echo chamber: In a recent Life Without Pants post (don’t you love that name?), Matt Cheuvront shared some interesting social media stats and encouraged marketers to get out of the echo chamber. If the only people you’re listening to and engaging with are marketers like you, it’s going to be pretty tough to come up with unique ideas. Get out in the world and meet some new folks.
Study other species: Once you’re out chatting up folks who run in different circles than your own, pay attention to what they do and how they do it. One of the classic (and, in my opinion, undervalued) marketing moves is to take a tried-and-true tactic from one industry and apply it to another. Stop thinking you have to do what everyone else in your market is doing, only better. Look at how people outside your market are succeeding and figure out how you can apply their methods to your business.
I’m not saying ants are all bad. They have some great qualities and a role to play; just don’t let it be in marketing. What do you think? What are some other ways a brand can keep from falling into an ant’s routine?
This post is part of my “Marketing According to Mother Nature” series. From the birds and the bees to sharks and wildebeests, the natural world is full of metaphors that provide surprisingly relevant marketing insights. Take a walk on the wild side – you never know what might inspire you.