Symbiotic relationships abound in nature. The Egyptian Plover bird routinely climbs inside the impressively-toothed maw of the crocodile to provide the ultimate in dental hygiene while simultaneously helping himself to a buffet meal. The clownfish (you know, the one made famous by Nemo) and the Ritteri sea anemone are another example – the territorial clownfish protects the anemone from anemone-eating fish, and the stinging tentacles of the anemone protect the clownfish from clownfish-eating predators. It’s a case of you watch my back and I’ll watch yours. Though these creatures may seem to be strange bedfellows, they are – in fact – perfectly evolved to help one another. Mother Nature is smart that way.

While attending a “howl night” event at a local wolf reserve (yes, I did howl with the wolves and it was very cool), I learned about the mutually beneficial relationship between wild wolves and ravens. According to Jeannie Soffron, our hostess and teacher, naturalists have repeatedly observed ravens exhibiting what would seem to be a kamikaze behavior – dive-bombing packs of wolves. As it turns out, the ravens have not lost their little birdie marbles. What they are doing is harassing the wolves into chasing them … right to a food source. See, ravens are carrion birds, meaning they get most of their sustenance by dining on the grisly remains of some larger animal’s meal. The ravens have the advantage of being able to spot a potential dinner – an elk, for instance – from the air, but they certainly can’t bring one down. So, they lead the wolves to the herd and then take a front row seat in the trees until the dinner bell rings.

This wolf/raven relationship is a perfect example of a classic symbiotic relationship – each creature provides something that the other cannot, and they both get more of what they need. As a business metaphor, mutually beneficial collaborations between non-competitive entities are, I think, sorely underutilized.

On the sleazy end of the scale, the first example that comes to mind is the proverbial ambulance chaser – a wolf – the personal injury lawyer – following a raven – the ambulance. But, there are less offensive examples. Say, like me, you’re a freelance marketing strategist. What if you partnered with a graphic designer with a steady stream of client work? The graphic designer delivers the clients and then you deliver incremental business by building strategies that require additional collateral. Or, maybe you’re a commercial gardener – installing and maintaining floral arrangements and greenery for office buildings. What if you hooked up with a local corporate cleaning service and stirred up business for each other through targeted referrals, sharing your perspective on the “hunt” to give each other an inside track, maybe even partnering to offer bundled services. The possibilities are endless.

So, what do you think? Do you already exploit symbiotic relationships? Are you a Egyptian plover or a crocodile? A wolf, or a raven?

Image credit: Steve Justad

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.