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Heavy lifting

Rhinoceros by Albrecht Dürer

There's lots of theory written about how to get a company or government to behave better. But the large organizations that shape our lives are not so hard to understand. Like other complex organisms, they seek pleasure and avoid pain. Think of a large corporation as a two-ton rhinoceros, six feet tall at the shoulder. Its tough skin is an inch-and-a-half thick. A rhino is terribly near-sighted — but hears quite well. A rhino can crush an anthill and never even know it. While it may be highly alert to a rival rhino, it may not pay attention to a tourist bus. If you had the job of moving that rhinoceros from one end of its range to another, how would you go about it? You have three basic options:

  • Cause it discomfort

  • Promise it a reward

  • Give it clear direction

To cause a rhino discomfort, you need to know where it's sensitive. You also need to know if you need a stepladder to reach that spot and whether you'll be trampled in the process. To promise a reward, you need to know exactly what a rhino prizes as a treat. And how close you need to hold that bouquet of cabbage so it sees it and smells it. Finally, by giving the rhino a clear path (opening a gate, for example), you can help the rhino pursue its idea of rhino happiness in the right direction. The moral of this metaphor is that, like a rhino, an organization whose behavior you aim to influence has largely rational motives. Aggregating resources, beating competitors, avoiding costs and averting conflict are common motives. So are preserving brand value and banking public respect. The rhino wrangler needs to understand the rhino's calculations and be able to create a problem, deliver on a promise and show the rhino a rewarding way out. It’s how to move something bigger, richer and more powerful than you are.

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