Your business: crustacean or invertebrate or vertebrate?

The primary (and most obvious difference) between a crustacean, invertebrate and vertebrate is its structure.

Crustaceans are typified by hard external skeletons or exoskeletons that provide the creature with its structure and form along with protecting it from outside dangers. This rigid external shell has to be shed as the creature grows – leaving it incredibly vulnerable as it changes over time.

Invertebrates do not have any skeleton (to speak of) and typically are tiny creatures (insects and the like) that make up around 97% of the entire animal kingdom. To change they literally go through a process of complete shut down while their entire make up is re-constituted through metamorphosis.

Vertebrates have an internal skeleton that provides for the creatures core strength and also allows for growth as the body develops around this growing skeleton. Vertebrates sit “at the top of the food chain” and typically are creature of a whole range of sizes and shapes designed to fit a whole range of niches. These are also the more intelligent and adaptable of creatures.

So, is your business (including its business model and governance structure) more like;

  • A crustacean  with a structure that inhibits growth and development;
  • An invertebrate with no real structure at all; or
  • A vertebrate with an invisible structure that flexes and develops over time as the business matures.

What would the symptoms of each be;

  • In a crustacean-like business the structures and processes would be absolutely entrenched in the business. There would be no divergence from the “way we do things around here”. In a crisis that precipitates any change it would almost be that everything is wrong and needs to be changed all at once – a massively disruptive and dangerous process for any business to go through;
  • In an invertebrate-like business there would be no real structure or process – things would always be done “on the fly” with no development of standard processes and policies. Complete flexibility, while allowing for amazing manoeuvrability would also severely prohibit significant growth – in a crisis the only real option would be to completely re-invent oneself by retreating into a cocoon and (hopefully) emerging as something else – too often a business even more vulnerable than before;
  • In a vertebrate-like business growth and development over time is facilitated by the robust internal structures, processes and policies that would shift and flex over time but never lose the fundamental “shape” they were from the beginning – the DNA of the business would not change but its size and shape would develop. Growth through challenging times would be facilitated by a combination of “hardness” and “softness”, rigidity and flexibility. Processes, procedures and policies would adapt and change over time as the business matured.

Sure every analogy has its weaknesses but this is a useful one in a time of significant and real change in the international landscape. It is a time to identify what you are (and unlike the natural world) make decisions and take actions to refashion your businesses model and structure as a vertebrate-type business – one that can and will mature and grow into the future.

Please comment below with your thoughts on this.

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