Security Lessons from Nature – Elephants
As I write this, I am sitting in my living room watching Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. Which, when you think about it tells you several things. First of all, modern technology is pretty neat. Second, if you believe the movie, the technology of the ancient Romans was even cooler. Third, my taste in movies could stand some improvement. However, one thing is certain… the movie has elephants in it, even if only by reference. Since elephants are profoundly more interesting than firing guns and shattering glass, I think I’ll talk about them instead.
Elephants are big. Really big. They’ve also been around for a long long time. (Despite the fact that the Wikipedia entry on their evolution is the most pathetic I’ve ever seen.) They’ve lived this long by staking their survival on their size and the fact that they’re big enough and strong enough to handle anything that comes their way. This strategy, of course, has it’s own costs.
- They have to eat hundreds of pounds of food each day.
- It takes them almost two years to gestate their young, and even then, it’s only one at a time.
- Babies require a significant amount of care, monopolizing the attention of several adults.
- It takes a lot of time to move… or to stop.
In exchange for all of this, they get to be the biggest, baddest, floppy earsyest animal on the savanna. They get to rip up trees with their noses… which is useful when they need to smack lions around. And on top of all of this, they have two spears sticking out of their faces for when they are in a stabby mood (and those pesky lions just won’t take a hint).
And there in lies the problem. The ivory in the tusks and the fact that they make “good” trophies caused a hunting spree that dropped their population to 1,300,000 by 1981 and to around 50,000 today. Though they were well adapted for life before humans invented guns, they’re not faring so well now (along with many others, actually).
The business lesson here is, I suppose, to not take anything for granted. A business model could work perfectly well for years and then one small change can come along and reduce your profit to 1/26th of what it once was. It’s happened before.
Just as, over time, elephants can develop new strategies, so can we. If something isn’t working, or a strength becomes a weakness, it can be changed. Who knows, if they survive, maybe elephants will eventually evolve shootable tusks or bulletproof skin. Maybe I will learn that sequels to action movies are never good. Perhaps your business can change and adapt to new conditions.
The good news is that you’re not an elephant, and businesses can adapt faster than genomes can. You just have to keep your eyes open.