The Polar Bears, VUCA and Start-Ups
The vast spread of the Arctic ice is home to the polar bears, one of the most resilient mammals on earth. Amongst its species, the polar bears are the largest in size and these mammals live a solitary life in this frigid region. Seeing them on television programs of nature and wildlife, their graceful appearance in a serene and peaceful environment, must have always awed the audience. Some amongst the readers might even have been privileged to see them upfront in their natural habitat.
So, what did one exactly see? All is not as it appears, there is turbulence in that environment -invisible, subtle and stealthily posing challenge to the region.
The natural habitat of polar bears is one of the most acutely affected ecosystems due to climatic changes our planet is experiencing. This is attributed to the human developmental activities’ sans synchronization with nature. Simply speaking, this species is encountering VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) challenges in its environment of existence. Like the global commitments towards creating a sustainable future for our planet, ongoing research and conservation activists are pitching-in to protect this unique species to the best of their abilities, but only time will narrate the resultant outcome for these.
However, this article is not about polar bears per se. It is about learning from a parallel species, understand their ecosystem changes and incorporate those insights in today’s VUCA business environment for the start-ups to come out with foresight for futures. Seems radical?
Learning Phase 1
It is interesting to know that the mother polar bear takes care of its cubs for the initial two years,nurturing them and providing them nourishment. She also coaches them, equips them with skills to hunt and fend on their own in the years ahead. Does this sound familiar for a start-up? They toorequire similar nurturing and support in formative years from incubators/accelerators/angel investors to sustain, grow and groom itself to face the challenges of future.
Learning Phase 2
During these initial two years, the mother bear keeps her radar open for danger to her cubs from other natural threats, even from her own species at times, she issues timely calls to her cubs and makes course corrections in forays for food and sustenance keeping clear of such dangers. This holds parallelly true for start-ups in which during the initial years, they need to build their own capacities and capabilities avoiding direct contestation with established competitors. There is need to create their own unique territorial turf before mounting effective confrontation for market space.
Learning Phase 3
The VUCA challenge thrown in by the climate change conditions have brought in slow but steady changes in the Arctic ecosystem, the polar bears being one of the most impactedspecies due to their direct dependency on ice cover for food and other activities. The polar bears like to feast on seals and takes its hunting as a playful productive exercise. But seals can be out-maneuvered by the polar bears only on ice, not in water! Does this again sound a bell of similarity for the start-ups? They also need to scan the constantly evolving and dynamic ecosystem of operations for seeking potential opportunities and make a kill on grounds familiar to them. Foraying into uncharted territories without foresight may lead to points of no return.
Learning Phase 4
The shrinking ice due to climate change have led to reduced annual time and area of ice cover for the polar bears to forage for food. Resultantly, research has revealed that at some places, the species have become physically leaner due to the reduced availability of food. The bodily changes have been slow and subtle to acclimatize with the changing ecosystem for these mammals. The inherent resiliencehas helped breed adaptation with the changes. So, when start-ups face such phases in their business environment, they also need to acclimatize. For them the velocity of change is sometimes rapid, calling for delving into their reserves for adapting, responding and getting geared up for an uncertain futurewithin stressed timelines. Their agility for devising this response would somewhere get linked with the foresight deployment towards crafting future readiness of the firm.
Learning Phase 5
Due to reduced permanent ice covers, polar bears have acquired skills to hunt in water, seek out new ecosystems like fjords for sustenance and expand on their food choice. They are also observant of the new species coming into their ecosystem due to climatic changes. Species foreign to the Arctic region are now competing for space here. This is bound to foster long term changes not only in the food chain but also in the behavioral responses in the species concerned due to their interaction within the changing ecosystem. Survival and sustenance shall be the desired outcome in any case. For start-ups, upskilling themselves, innovating, seeking new avenues for growth are some of the key challenges to mount given the limited resources at their disposal. But those which can think beyond will emerge as true navigators in the VUCA world.
Learnings from the Polar Bear
Start-ups need to stay grounded to their conceptual origin to gain maximum traction for themselves. The revelations, like the learnings nature conceal into its fold, will come to them with time and patience. What will be required is to hold fort, stay resilient and keep moving towards a future of unending opportunities. So, next time you see a Polar Bear either on television or otherwise, do think of all that it carries within to get itself future ready in its uncertain world.