5 min read

Opin­ions expressed by Entre­pre­neur con­trib­u­tors are their own.

It’s near­ing the end of May 2020, a glob­al health has kept much of the U.S. at home for almost two months now, and peo­ple have been in des­per­ate need of a good dis­trac­tion. Zoom par­ties, “quaran­bak­ing,” and, of course, the hit docuseries Tiger King have all been wel­come forms of enter­tain­ment.

With econ­o­mists from the already pro­ject­ing that the coronavirus’s eco­nom­ic toll will be the worst down­turn since the Great Depres­sion, Tiger King is per­haps an unex­pect­ed source of busi­ness inspi­ra­tion. (Spoil­er alert: It takes place at a peren­ni­al­ly cash-strapped road­side zoo—just one rea­son why.) And yet, each scene that shows one of Joe Exotic’s zookeep­ers duti­ful­ly step­ping into the tigers’ cage holds a les­son for entre­pre­neurs want­i­ng to build busi­ness­es resilient enough to weath­er both this cur­rent cri­sis and the next.

You have to be will­ing to face the tiger.

For , tigers come in many forms. They may be a cri­sis stem­ming from a nat­ur­al phe­nom­e­non or they may be a finan­cial, tech­no­log­i­cal, or eth­i­cal cri­sis. What­ev­er the cause, the impor­tant point is that the entre­pre­neur who wants not just to sur­vive, but to thrive, is will­ing to con­front the biggest chal­lenges fac­ing his or her busi­ness head-on.

Down­play­ing the risk—or worse, turn­ing your back on the dan­ger altogether—is a one-step recipe for dis­as­ter. In fact, it’s just ask­ing to be eat­en.

Relat­ed: An Entre­pre­neur’s Guide to Thriv­ing as the World Reopens

Not fac­ing the tiger means miss­ing out on the oppor­tu­ni­ties that are inher­ent in near­ly every cri­sis. Crises cre­ate big shifts in the mar­ket. They alter con­sumer behav­ior, some­times per­ma­nent­ly. When left uncon­front­ed, those missed oppor­tu­ni­ties may play right into the hands of com­peti­tors. Fail­ing to rec­og­nize cri­sis-relat­ed mar­ket shifts runs the risk of your busi­ness becom­ing expend­able, your brand being per­ceived as irrel­e­vant, your bot­tom line going the way of Sears, or .

In that sense, fac­ing the tiger is not too far afield from ’s “Day 1 Men­tal­i­ty.” Amazon’s CEO, , is a big pro­po­nent of treat­ing every day at work as if it’s the very first day at a new start­up. There’s a spe­cial alert­ness on Day 1. With no lau­rels to rest on, everyone’s eager to impress, solve prob­lems, make a big impact. In fact, this men­tal­i­ty is so inte­gral to Amazon’s oper­a­tions that they’ve named the main office build­ing of Amazon’s Seat­tle head­quar­ters “Day 1.”

Just like fac­ing the tiger, the Day 1 Men­tal­i­ty keeps prac­ti­tion­ers on its toes, in a con­stant state of evo­lu­tion, mind­ful of emerg­ing mar­ket pos­si­bil­i­ties and busi­ness poten­tial. It’s cus­tomer-obsessed, ask­ing how large-scale trends are shap­ing wants and needs, and invites accel­er­at­ed deci­sion mak­ing in order to meet those wants or needs. While com­mon busi­ness sense says that every com­pa­ny should know its core strength, the Day 1 Men­tal­i­ty stress­es that a core busi­ness strength may yet have unre­al­ized appli­ca­tions.

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The nim­ble­ness to adjust one’s busi­ness accord­ing to a shift­ing land­scape is just one ben­e­fit of fac­ing the tiger. Here are three more:

Proactive, not reactive

Fac­ing the tiger means being pre­pared for the worst. While it may sound pes­simistic, even grim, to game-plan for dis­as­trous con­tin­gen­cies, it helps your orga­ni­za­tion stay cre­ative when the prover­bial mess hits the fan. Cri­sis mode, by def­i­n­i­tion, is a sort of tun­nel vision, trig­gered by fear, that can only focus on elim­i­nat­ing the imme­di­ate threat. The will­ing­ness to scan the hori­zon for threats and pre­pare for them in advance, before an actu­al emer­gency caus­es cre­ative think­ing to shut down, allows orga­ni­za­tions to keep more options at their dis­pos­al when the time comes.

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Comfortable with vulnerability

Fac­ing the tiger means being both aware and hon­est about one’s weak­ness­es, on both a per­son­al and orga­ni­za­tion­al lev­el. Tra­di­tion­al­ly, vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty has been con­sid­ered a lia­bil­i­ty for lead­ers, though more and more that notion is being chal­lenged. On the con­trary, many psy­chol­o­gists are point­ing to the increased effec­tive­ness of lead­ers com­fort­able with vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. Lead­ers that demon­strate vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty are per­ceived as more authen­tic and are thus able to inspire and build bonds with mem­bers of their team, reduc­ing hier­ar­chy in ways that encour­age bet­ter per­for­mance.

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Downsizing calamities

Have you ever real­ized how “con­flict-avoid­ance” is one of the surest ways to guar­an­tee con­flict? Minor issues, left unchecked, metas­ta­size into full-blown busi­ness emer­gen­cies. It’s the “stitch in time” phe­nom­e­non.

A health­i­er approach is to devel­op a zeal for fac­ing chal­lenges as soon as they appear, as this anec­dote from the world of real tigers sug­gests:

In the Sun­dar­bans region of India, a fer­tile delta ecosys­tem along the bor­der with Bangladesh, tiger-human rela­tions are so per­ilous that more than 3,000 “tiger widows”—wives who have lost a spouse to a tiger attack—reside here. At one point in the 1980s, tigers were claim­ing the lives of vil­lagers who ven­ture into the forests for work at a rate of more than one per week.

At least, that was until vil­lagers found a way to face the tigers. Know­ing that tigers are a preda­tor that prefers attack­ing its prey from behind, vil­lagers began wear­ing a mask on the back of their heads, so that they can always be fac­ing any tiger lurk­ing their way. By fac­ing the tigers, the num­ber of attacks dropped dra­mat­i­cal­ly.

Because some­times, when you’re will­ing to face the tiger, the tiger blinks and walks away.

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