Is Your Family Business a Sphex Wasp?

Don’t resist change like the female Sphex Wasp.   Her inability to adapt to out of the ordinary circumstances can be fatal to her children and her existence.

The female Sphex Wasp paralyzes a cricket with one sting.  She then drags the cricket to her nest and lays her eggs inside it so that her offspring have breakfast once they’re born.  Kind of like a warm, living refrigerator…  Eek.

Before placing the cricket inside her cubby-hole, however, she goes into recon mode and ensures that her nest is safe and secure.  If anything (wind, predators, thieves, people with sanitized tweezers) moves her helpless victim even a few inches while she is inside, she restarts her process, moves the cricket back to its original place, and goes back into her nest.  Researchers have found that, regardless of how many times they move the cricket, the female Sphex Wasp will not break her pattern.

Alas, her inability to process and react to new information will eventually exhaust her and cause the demise of her unborn wasp babies.

As family business owners, we must expect and welcome change.  What other logical choice can we make?  Whether we’ve hoped for it or not, economic change has fallen upon us like a meteor out of the sky.  Markets have shrunk faster than the number of competitors, causing downward pricing pressure.  As expected, profits have fallen and many feel like they are working twice as hard to earn half as much.

Here are 3 things each of us can do to increase our ability to adapt to new circumstances:

  • Make sure we know our strengths.  Success, for the most part, comes from leveraging our strengths against competition.  Do you know what you do better than 10,000 randomly selected people?  Or 100 competitors?  If not, take half a day to answer this question.   
  • Understand our next best alternative.  If you choose not to continue to pursue the path you are currently on, what will you do?  How will it feel?  What will be the most frightening part of the change?  What will be the benefit?  Sometimes simply thinking through a frightening change can decrease the intensity of its impact dramatically.
  • Step back and evaluate.  Ask the question, “is this still a good business?”  Blockbuster Video and AT&T pay phones were successful ideas in business history that are now worth very little.  Taking time to think about how economic reality all around us is changing is important right now.  Whether it causes you to tweak some part of your business model, or allows you to see a significant new opportunity, the investment in time and thought will be valuable.

What do you think?  How have you, or your friends or colleagues, been able to break out of destructive cycles and meet change head on?

One thought on “Is Your Family Business a Sphex Wasp?”

  1. I did a personal SWOT analysis of my personal situation at the time and decided that it was time to face reality and stop kidding myself. In my case, I was working in a FB and realized that if I ever wanted to lead it in the future the best thing I could do was to leave and get experience somewhere else. It was a very difficult decision to take. When you work for your family there is so much pressure around you to just go with the flow, keep your head down and pretend that you have the fantastic life other people think you have. I just realized I could fool everybody but myself. So, it was very scare, but I left anyway. I followed my instincts and I was 100% right.

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