The cockroach and the successful business owner

There is a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment when your business survives the test of time and many other challenges that confront entrepreneurship. Yet, no one in the history of small business ownership has ever stepped up to the podium to receive The Businessperson of the Year Award and started their acceptance speech by stating "I am a cockroach". Wait, let me explain and yes, all roads lead back to Charles: "It's not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change" Charles Darwin.

God bless the cockroach.

Cockroaches have reportedly been around for over three hundred and fifty million years and are considered the most adaptable when it comes to change. While some of the research I came across is purely scientific (hum...boring), here are a few factual tidbits worthy of an honorable mention:

Cockroaches display 'collective decision-making' when choosing food sources: "It appears that when a sufficient number of individuals (a "quorum") exploits a food source, this signals to newcomer cockroaches that they should stay there longer rather than leave for elsewhere." Yes! There is no "I" in team cockroach.

Cockroaches can live for weeks without their heads: "As crazy as this sounds, entomologists have actually decapitated roaches to study this phenomena. Lop the head off a roach, and a week or two later it will still respond to stimuli by wiggling its legs. Why? Because the head of a roach isn't all that important to how it functions." OK Mr. CEO, can your company survive without you?

The Entomological Society of America refers to this 'creature' as "The cockroach in the genus of..." Hum, do I hear 'genius'?

While no entrepreneur embarks on business ownership just to survive, or "make payroll", there is something to be said about the art and science of adaptability to change in business. And as anyone who is a small business owner knows, change is constant and inevitable.How we react or adapt to business and personal conditions determines our ability to not only survive but achieve long term and sustainable success.

The most profound and critical change owners have had to adapt to is the realization that "we" no longer matters. It is painfully true and a direct result of information technology and accessibility: What we say about our business ("We are the leading ....We have the best...) is irrelevant and pointless. If we agree that "knowledge is power" it is now in the exclusive hands (literally) of buyers not sellers: "We" the sellers no longer matter.Businesses that were able to sense and quickly adapt this buyer transformational change are incredibly successful: Zappos, JetBlue to name a few."

It's the economy, stupid" was a phrase coined by James Carville, Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign strategist.  Well, 21st century business ownership is all about  "it's the Buyer, stupid."

"Change vs. more of the same" was actually the better and less offensive campaign slogan. The Clinton's theme song "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow" by Fleetwood Mac was more effective in and connected with the voting public. And so, both slogans are relevant to our discussion.

Truly successful businesses are those with the  ability to adapt to change. And adaptability is impossible without an unrelenting focus on "The Buyer" who is the only one that is creating and dictating the very change we as sellers have to adapt to. Simple, "we the sellers no longer matter."

The cockroach has been able to adapt for millions of years without significant physiological changes (best we can tell from discovered fossils dating back 49 millions years). What it means to us business owners is that change does not necessarily require reinventing who you are or why you're in business: it does require a change in focus and a commitment to staying in-sync and in-tune with buyers, customers and your team members.

Adaptability comes down to a simple question that every business owner must ask themselves, their team and their competitors: "Who in our business or industry has the ability to create the kind of change that will either help us grow or put us out of business?"

The word cockroach elicits a not-so-pleasant visual of that moment before a big shoe is about to end it for the cockroach. Yet, for those living in New York City or other large metropolitan areas around the world, we have to respectfully bow down and accept that the cockroach is winning the adaptability battle. And, as unpleasant or nauseating as it may be, learning how to adapt will create the legacy that every entrepreneur wants to leave behind: a business that is profitable and exists years later.

Thank God for the cockroach.

P.S. Special thanks to my friend Tom Barrett for inspiring this blog. Tom is a cockroaching guru and a tremendously generous human being.

P.P.S. No cockroaches have been harmed during the writing of this blog.