Learning Innovation from Camels & Goats

By Shlomo Maital    

    In many years of studying innovation, I’ve come to know and talk with many creative people.  A common trait of all is that they are, well, (I hesitate to say this)…. weirdos.  They think differently.   They are somewhat introverted.  And they find unusual solutions to hard problems. 

   Now comes some confirmation from a truly weird source:  Hoofed animals.  Scientists studied how a dozen different species of hoofed animals solve a problem – getting a beloved food out of a cup with a lid.

      Writing in the New York Times, Veronique Greenwood reports:

   “In a study published on Wednesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Mr. Caicoya and his colleagues reported that around 38 percent of the animals avoided the cups entirely. Of those who approached a cup, 40 individuals managed to take the lids off to reach the food. Eighty-six percent of the dromedaries and 69 percent of the goats managed to get the goods.”

     “What was linked to success, as well as to willingness, was an individual animal’s social position. Close observation of the animals allowed the researchers to construct hierarchies of their social groups. They found that animals that were outcasts or low in the pecking order had less fear of new objects, more willingness to explore them and a greater chance of getting the prize.”

     Goats and camels live in harsh environments.  So evolution has made them stubborn problem-solvers.  But within their herds, there is social position. And it is the outsiders who seem to be most innovative.

     Believe it or not, there is a real lesson here for businesses.  Weirdos, outsiders, introverts, socially awkward – they are often sidelined, fired or ignored.  They don’t fit the corporate mould.  This is in part why small startups thrive, then slumber and lose their creativity when they scale up and become ‘domesticated’.  I always advise large companies trying to be more innovative, to find the weirdos/creative types and cultivate them. 

    The goats and camels who got the lids off?  They had little to lose, because they were already outcasts.  So, why not go for it?  In organizations?  Big shots have much to lose, if they propose wild ideas and are greeted with laughter and scorn.   They don’t want to become the ‘goat’.  

   They apparently do not know – GOAT stands for greatest of all time.  Emulate the goat, people, and you can become a GOAT.