The Buffalo Theory – a Lesson for Business:
By: Gary A. Clark
Managing Director –
The beauty of science; is that when it is combined with critical thinking, it has the ability to explain both natural phenomenon as well as man made phenomenon. I came across this piece on the buffalo theory as it related to a funny article about the sitcom Cheers. One afternoon at Cheers, Cliff
Clavin – the inept mail carrier and drinking buddy of Norm, was explaining the Buffalo Theory to his buddy Norm, and here's how it went:
"Well ya see Norm, it's like this... A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps
improving by the regular killing of the weakest members." " In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. “Excessive intake of alcohol, as we all know, kills brain cells, but naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine." "That's why
you always feel smarter after a few beers."
After the laughter dies down, you begin to think that perhaps there is a lot more truth to the Buffalo theory then what is first
assumed. For example, as a business writer, I tend to relate
information like this to how it would apply to other areas. If we pull out just the theory and examine put it up against what we know
of the ‘wonderful’ world of business, here’s how I think it would look.
A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps
improving by the regular killing of the weakest members."
The first indication we have is that this could be said for the slowest and weakest companies when faced with today’s “hunters.” The hunters in this case – would be our weakened economy.
Is this a natural selection process then? If you liken the ‘herd’ to ‘Corporations’, with the weakest members now being the Dot Com companies, who grew
very big during the mad rush for Internet superiority, then you have a general idea of a herd with both weak and strong members. The Dot Coms then – because of poor planning, lack of foresight, and no contingency planning, are now the weakest members of the herd.
(Update Note: This was originally written in 2003 when "dot-coms" were
falling by the wayside. Today the same principle could apply to mortgage
Well this is rather too obvious and makes for a weak argument. Let’s take the topic deeper however and look within the herd itself to the individual members. This is assuming your mind is as warped as mine and that you see Corporate Fat Cats as buffalo. ( the image was simply too much for me to pass up)
Let the strongest buffalo of the herd represent leaders, owners and managers in the company and the weakest, represent those who are being ushered out the door on layoffs.
Does this analogy still work? Well no, not quite, because we all know of instances where strong managers have been laid off during weak economic times, due to the lack of creativity and strength of the supposedly strong owners. Here the analogy runs afoul because due to the lack of creativity, the weak are driving the
company, or in our analogy, instead of following the herd and lagging behind prime for the kill, they appear to be driving the herd toward the cliffs. Surely, they do not have the foresight to see the path ahead, because they are in the back – pushing the herd forward. It is the old Patton theory of push –pull in reverse.
So at first blush, this would appear to not be an application for our analogy of buffalo herds to business. However, let’s take a second look. If the strong are being driven by the weak and the weak are driving them off, and further assuming - that if they do not get led over the cliff, then where do the strong herd members
Could it be that they build their own herd and become the strong leaders they were meant to be in the first place.
Hmmm. Now that works. Say’s a lot for self-employment and entrepreneurship doesn’t it?