Stefan Swanepoel offers a unique look at seven foundational business skills, set against the backdrop of the Serengeti with its inhabitants as metaphors and examples of each skill. His book is Surviving Your Serengeti: 7 Skills to Master Business and Life.
The book is written as a fable, and it's a fast, easy read. The idea is that seven of the Serengeti's animals each exemplify a particular business and life skill: Wildebeests exemplify endurance, lions strategy, crocodiles enterprise, cheetahs efficiency, giraffes grace, mongoose risk-taking, and elephants communication.
Business skills on the Serengeti
How each animal displays and uses their specific skill is described through the eyes of the fable's guide, who is explaining his theories about the animals and their survival skills to the main character (and thus to us as readers), a tourist to the Serengeti.
Some of the animals' skills are more clearly demonstrated than others. The lions' strategy, for instance, is clear both in theory and in the guide's explanation, as the characters observe a lioness hunting prey using her strategy. But the risk-taking of the mongoose is less clear: it's just presented as fact that they take considered risks as part of their survival, but we get no real illustration of the skill in action. I was left suspecting that the author had seven skills in mind, and simply needed an animal to fill the “risk taking” slot.
But this is a minor criticism, because what the book does, it does well: it provides a metaphorical framework for showing how individuals and their unique skills exist within a larger ecosystem. Each chapter offers the story of the skill on the Serengeti, and also offers an end-of-chapter wrap-up, which I found to be one of the most valuable parts of the book. The wrap-up gives a summary of that skill, the characteristics of someone who is strong in that skill, how the skill fits within the larger framework of business, and tips on maximizing that skill.
I am an Elephant-Lion hybrid. What are you?
It was fun to consider how much of each skill I exemplify, and to identify which animal I most resonate with. (I think I'm probably a blend of Strategic Lion and Communicating Elephant–an elephalion? Liophant?) There is a quiz at the book's website to help you determine which animal you are, though you must give your email address to get your results.
The book is most useful, though, not in self-identification, but in team building and structuring. Surviving Your Serengeti will help you more clearly pinpoint others' skillsets and help you understand how those skills can be put to their best use in your own business ecosystem.
From self-discovery to team implementation
The book bills itself as a “fable of self-discovery,” and I suppose that's why each animal and skill is, for the most part, considered separately from the others.
Even so, an astute manager (or entrepreneur who works with several other team members in any capacity) could certainly use the Serengeti framework to better understand how each members' strength is useful to the team. Team members could use it to better understand what other members bring to the team's dynamic & how those strengths support and impact their own. The end-of-chapter summaries would be particularly useful for that purpose.
There was nothing ground-breaking in this book, but I don't think that was the point. The fable is meant to provide an illustrated metaphor, a backdrop against which we can better understand our own inherent skill and those of our collaborators. The value of the book is not in its presentation of new ideas, but in a creative new way of visualizing ideas about skills and strengths.