Dolphins or Sharks – The Need for Both in Business

Skill DevelopmentWorkplace Success

Most people think of sharks as solitary, lone wolf hunters. And they are.

Most people think of dolphins as always smiling, social creatures. And they are.

Both are extremely efficient at what they do … and that is … SURVIVE.

One does it by using a winner takes all strategy. The other by a more collective approach.

The goal of both is the same. Survival.

Unlike humans neither of them have time to swim around and watch football on Sundays. Sure, dolphins frolic and play. But that’s how they learn to work together and trust one another and also to enforce social rules which are oriented to overall survival of the pod.

There are similarities to what humans do here. There are times when it is required and expected to behave like a shark and there are times when one needs to act like a dolphin.

Sometimes a shark

There are times in our lives when we are more like the shark. Whether we want to admit that or not is probably a PhD psychology thesis paper. However, being a shark at times is required AND rewarded.

  • Can you think of any scenarios where Shark like behavior is valued and rewarded?
  • If you said sales you get a gold star.
    • But there is a caveat here … Really good sales reps can switch back and forth between Shark and Dolphin modes with ease. More on this later.
  • What about School?
    • If you go back a little further in time you might realize your performance in school is very shark like.
    • You are rewarded for your solitary success. For your Winner Take All strategy.
      • Unless you went to school where all information is shared and grades are irrelevant or communal.

Sometimes a dolphin

There are times in our lives when we are more like the dolphin. Where working together is required AND rewarded.

Again, flashing back to school there are times where you are required to work as a team. Labs, reports, and projects that cannot be done in a solo fashion.

What is the purpose of these team efforts?

In school it’s a combination of things. Certainly learning how to work together (a skill you should have been learning since kindergarten), but also as a division of labor AND a division of skills. Not everyone brings the same skills to the table.

With dolphins there are similar effects in play. Some are better at herding while others are better catching their prey. Dolphins (and humans) are smart enough to realize this and to create a division of labor based on skills to maximize their efficiency.

In the case of dolphins a lack of cohesion can literally be the difference between life and death.

  • Note: There are countless HBR articles on the value of teamwork with humans.

Sales is a dolphin AND shark world

Great sales reps with long careers have both Shark and Dolphin tendencies.

This article is not designed to be just about sales reps, but almost everyone knows a sales rep that has Shark Mode on all the time.

A lucky few of us know some that have Dolphin tendencies too.

Anyone can find a big win … Once

  • While these big wins are great they are too often not predictable or repeatable.
  • It takes a special kind of person to know when to switch from Shark Mode to Dolphin Mode. Those people that do will likely be around for a long time and more important they will be sought after (or they should be).
  • What do I mean?
    • A smart sales rep uses their inner Shark mode to smell the sale and swim / drive towards it.
    • The smart sales rep realizes their limitations and will invoke the help of others to achieve the ultimate prize. (Dolphin Mode)
    • If their forte is not in legal or contracts or presentations or whatever skills they know they lack or prefer not to do … they ask for help. (Like the Dolphin … they invoke a Division of Labor)
    • The smart reps do this over and over again … thus ensuring their survival, but equally important … the survival of the pod.

Choose your moments

The point is … choose your moments to be a Shark or to be a Dolphin. Understand the purpose of each skill and when to apply them. Your ability to stand out in your career depends on it. Choose wisely.