When it comes to creating, marketing, and sustaining a startup, we all know that thinking differently than others is the key to success. Knowing that fact, however, doesn’t make you the next Steve Jobs. Sometimes thinking outside of the box means taking a step outside the office to observe the greater mysteries of the world. Throughout the centuries, great thinkers, including those in business, have drawn inspiration from nature and other disciplines.
Stepping outside of your typical discipline has also been proven to increase creativity and innovation: two keys to startup success. While people often joke about liberal arts educations in the business world, those types of experiences do provide enlightened ways of thinking due to the multidisciplinary study.
However, you don’t have to trash your MBA and go back for a liberal arts degree to achieve this sort of thinking. You just have to step outside, look up at the stars, and think about things from the scientific and natural perspectives. We can learn a lot about startup success and survival from the universe around us and the animal kingdom. Let’s take a look at some particularly stellar examples:
1. Startup Lessons From the Animal Kingdom
Animals are all about instinct and survival: traits you also need in the fierce and competitive world of startups. Many animals have evolved and adopted key traits to cope with the ferocity of the natural environment, and your startup can, too:
2. Sometimes You Have to Be a Zebra
Zebras’ stripes fulfill multiple functions—they act as a sunscreen, keeping the animals cool. The stripes also make them noticeable and unique among other animals, and when they’re standing or moving together as a herd, the stripes defray and confuse predators in the wild.
What can your startup take from this? There are a few lessons here:
- Design to stay cool: Zebras are designed, by nature, to stay cool with their stripes. While you’re building, transforming, or rebranding your startup, remember this lesson. How can you keep cool in the face of adversity? Strategies always work best when you bake them into the design—and look cool doing it.
- Stand out: Standing out is the point. No other animal looks like the zebra in the animal world, and no one would identify a zebra as an imitator. They have unique looks and names, and people are generally fascinated by them. From choosing your startup’s name to jumping for a bold website or office design, remember that standing out is exactly what you’re supposed to do.
- Unify your team: Everyone knows that starting and growing a startup is a real hustle. If you can graze together like zebras (in the startup world, that means you need to order food, usually!), you can stand against any would-be predators, or at least confuse them enough to pull off your own brilliant scheme, survive, and thrive.
Have you ever heard of the okapi? It’s ta beautiful, zebra-adjacent creature, and it also has (some) stripes. Okapi are so rare that they were once considered myths, but now they’re documented in the wild and in captivity. As a startup, you know that everyone’s trying to be the unicorn. Everyone talks about them, everyone makes a big fuss about the rare appearance of one—but you can be an okapi, charging forward from the myths, bootstrapping your way to excellence while everyone else selling their souls for that venture capitalist dough.
3. Sometimes You Have to Be a Wolf
Wolves are fast and beautiful creatures. They can cover 38 miles in a day at a sprint, and when a wolf has pups, the entire pack participates in raising them. Their social structures change several times over the lifespan of the pack, they’re defensive, and everyone has a role to play.
Wolves are popular symbols in the startup community. They go right along with the “stay hungry” and “be aggressive” mentality required to make it as a startup. Beyond that, your startup has a lot to learn from them:
- Wolves make moves fast: When the time is right, wolves make big moves. Whether it’s heading towards an optimal food source or moving while there’s a break in the snow, this pack-oriented predator takes every available opportunity to get ahead. As a startup, you should model this behavior. Think about the best breaks in the market and operate with calculated speed and strategy.
- Everyone pitches in to build the community: In a wolf pack, everyone helps raise the pups. At your startup, everyone needs to help define and grow the company. Especially in the beginning, it’s a group effort to pitch in for the good of all.
- Transformation is part of the process: As wolves go through changes individually and as a pack, their roles change. It’s a natural part of growth. To keep the pack at its strongest, wolves understand this and shift their structures over time. Like the wolves, your startup needs to do the same thing. Do you need to add members, cut off dead weight, or shuffle responsibilities, so everything works effectively? As a startup owner, you need to make those tough calls—but that’s why you’re the leader of the pack.
- Wolves protect what they’ve built: By nature, wolves are inherently defensive. Come too close, and they’ll growl, always ready to protect their territory and their pack. In the startup world, you also have to protect your turf: your ideas, your employees, and your stake in the market. Be like a wolf: be aggressive about being defensive.
- Everyone in the pack knows their role: Have you ever seen footage of a wolf pack functioning? It’s a thing of beauty. Each and every pack member knows what they’re doing. They have defined roles and execute them flawlessly to ensure the survival and dominance of their pack. Like wolves, startups can ensure everyone has a defined role in line with their skillset for maximum efficiency. People love doing what they’re good at—why place them in offbeat roles when they know what they want? Listen to them and learn their strengths before assigning tasks that are bad fits.
4. Survive With Chameleon Skills
Everyone knows about how chameleons can change color to blend in with their environment, but they also do it to communicate. When it’s time to mate and populate, they change color to indicate their readiness. Chameleons’ eyes enable them to look in more than one direction at once. Plus, they’re not all small—chameleons come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Besides the obvious, what does your startup have to learn from these creatively camouflaging creatures?
- Communicate clearly: Chameleons are pretty obvious about it when it’s time to grow their families. Whether you’re communicating with prospects or recruiting your newest employee, be clear with your expectations, and tell them exactly what you want.
- Keep an eye out: Remember how chameleons can look in more than one direction at the same time with their funky eyes? You, too, have the tools you need to be on the lookout for predators. Consider using a tool like Mention, which sends you mentions of your business or brand whenever it’s mentioned online. (You can also monitor your competitors this way.)
- Variable size: Chameleons come in different sizes. There’s no rule for what a startup has to look like. Some start small; some take their investment and put it into hiring. At any stage of growth, the only rule about the size of your business is that you should be focusing on stability and forward momentum.
5. Startup Lessons from Outer Space
From the beginning of time, humankind’s progress has been linked to the stars. We’ve always, as a species, stared up and wondered about whether someone else was out there, what makes the stars shine, and more. Throughout the course of history, humans have created myths, fables, and stories about how the stars were made and who lives up there in space.
6. The Universe Is Ever-Expanding
While scientists still debate over whether the universe is finite or infinite by nature, they agree on one fact about its nature: the universe continues to expand. In addition, it keeps revealing new information to us as it grows. Your startup can certainly learn a thing or two from the nature of the universe:
- Scientists debate over the nature of the universe: The universe is what it is, regardless of the debate over how others perceive it. As a startup founder, you need to persist with the direction of your startup. Keep moving forward—you know what it is, don’t get caught up in what others would have you make it. The universe is powerful and doesn’t have feelings about this, and your business should operate the same way.
- Presenting new information: Space provides us with fantastic new discoveries all the time. Sometimes new material from space literally moves towards our planet, out of our sky, and into our back yards. Operating a startup is similar. You discover new stuff as you go, constantly, and that information has incredible value. Don’t pass up the chance to document and share it.
7. Capture People’s Fascination
Regardless of our level of understanding about it, outer space is fascinating. Whether you can explain the dynamics of a black hole or you’re a child interested in stargazing, space is mesmerizing. As the Earth moves, our view of the galaxy and astral bodies changes, and we remain ever-fascinated.
Capture the fascination: As a startup, there are many fascinating things about what you do. Your technology and ideas are most likely innovative, important, and revolutionary. Whether you’re an ad agency or a robotics firm, people want a peek behind the curtain to see what makes your company go.
- Provide Mystery: The universe offers so many unanswered questions and mysteries. There’s almost a peace in knowing that we will not solve the universe’s mysteries in our lifetimes. More mysteries also beget more questions.
- Tease your audience: The universe is the master of teasing their audience. We always want to find out more, and we’re impressed by the mystery. As a startup, you can tease your results without fully showing everyone how you got there. It’s a great way to encourage email list signups, constant engagement, demo inquiries, and more.
- Entertain Exploration: One of the fascinating things about our interaction with outer space is our desire to explore it—endlessly. From wanting to know what’s out there to being able to find out, exploration has been at the cornerstone of our obsession with space. Exploration digs into our emotional need to explore, our existential questions about whether we’re alone, and our drive for discovery.
- Explore together: As a startup, you have the opportunity to offer exploration to your community, and offer them space onboard the proverbial ship. You can solicit community feedback in discussion forums and surveys and keep tabs on what people are saying about your startup.
8. Be Like NASA: Encourage Customer Input
When kids write to NASA telling them about their fascination with outer space, they get a response. That’s because NASA’s committed to furthering education about space and engaging the public in the space program. Ultimately, NASA runs on government funding, which comes from our taxes, making us the customer. Very aware of this, NASA provides sharp responses and on-point customer service.
How to be like NASA: NASA’s great at outreach, and with outer space as a tool for engagement, the sky isn’t even close to the limit. If you had unlimited resources, what would you do to reach your audience and ensure your customers are taken care of? Check out NASA’s Twitter feed and see how they respond to queries and release formal announcements. It’s truly inspiring, especially as it happens alongside breathtaking photos and videos of outer space and celestial bodies.
Don’t just think outside the box—think outside of your office, town, and country. Observe what nature has to teach us about surviving as a startup, and don’t stop dreaming. If you need a reminder, just look at the stars.