Standing Up To Fierce Competition


[Photo from BBC UK]

In business competition is fierce.

Everyone is trying to go after the same customers. Often it is the large, well known and resourced organizations that dominate at any given time. Like lions, these companies are clearly superior. Their size and physicality better equip them to dominate.

But, nature provides us a stunningly good example of how the physically inferior African Bushmen have been stealing lions’ lunches without a fight for thousands of years! By following the Bushman’s example, you too can steal larger competitor’s lunch and essentially have the field all to yourself.

King of the Animal Kingdom

Throughout the African Savannah resides one of the fiercest predators. Lions are king. Clocking in at up to 500 lbs, lions dominate in stature, fitness and strategy. They prey on a variety of animals from wildebeests to giraffes and can sometimes prey on larger animals: rhinos, hippos and on the rare occasion elephants.

Lions also control mesopredators, smaller predators such as African wild dogs and cheetahs, by pervading a “landscape of fear.” Lions harass, steal, and kill the mesopredator’s young (less than 5% of cheetah cubs make it to independence due to lion killing). Either the mesopredators leave, such as wild dogs, or their populations are heavily kept controlled, in the case of cheetahs.

Cheetahs, the fastest land animals, try to stay at least 100 meters away from lions. Otherwise lions often ambush and kill them for fun.

You can probably think of a number of corporations that are the lions of their Savannah.

San People - African Bushmen

Throughout the Kalahari Desert in Africa resides the San people. Often called Bushmen, these people are one of the closest direct connections with our oldest ancestors. They continue to live the same way living off the land and leading a hunter-gathering lifestyle.

Interestingly, the African Bushmen are predators competing for the same resources as lions. The two coexist. Actually, the African bushman, clocking in at 80 lbs, pervade a “landscape of fear” amongst lions five times their size without a fight!

Bushmen sleep on the ground at night with no protection. If lions come to their grounds at night the small bushmen “speak loudly in steady, commanding tones, telling them to leave.” Along with a shake of burning branches the lions leave as requested.

Even more surprisingly, bushmen in small groups seek out prides of lions after they have killed a wildebeest or other animal. Or sometimes the Bushmen shoot an animal with a poisoned arrow and lions find it first. Elizabeth Marshall Thomas recalled one instance:

"In another instance, Bushman hunters had shot a wildebeest with a poisoned arrow and were tracking him, but when they finally caught up to him, he was so consumed by the poison that he was lying down. However, a large pride of about 30 lionesses and a black maned lion had found him first. Although the wildebeest could still toss his horns, some of the lionesses were starting to close in on him, watched by the others, including the lion, who stayed in the background. Seeing all this, the Bushmen approached the nearest two lionesses cautiously, and very gently eased them away by speaking respectfully, saying "Old Ones, this meat is ours," and tossing lumps of dirt so that the lumps landed in front of the lionesses without hitting them. The two lionesses didn't seem happy about this, and one of them growled, but amazingly, both of them averted their eyes, and turning their faces sideways, they soon moved back into the bushes. Eventually they turned tail and bounded off. Soon, the other lions followed them, and the Bushmen killed and butchered the wildebeest."

In both cases the Bushmen slowly walk up in a confident manner to intimidate the lions. They then take some of their food and leave unharmed.

How do they do it? Over the thousands of years the lions have co-existed with the Bushmen. The physically inferior humans have a culture based on consistently displaying dominant behaviors with lions. As such, a team of Bushmen displaying unwavering courage and confidence is powerful; the lions care not to compete with them.

These two videos demonstrate the African Bushmen against a pride of hungry lions and cheetahs.

In Business

Smaller companies with a strong culture share the same traits as the African Bushmen. Working as a united team, they can display their courage and confidence to larger competitors. This often intimidates the larger competitor to give up their lunch or not even bother fighting.

Here is a quick example. Ian wrote this in How Can I Hurt You:

On MicroCapClub we have been following a company that created its niche, is the market leader, and has profitably grown revenues fairly consistently at a 30% CAGR the last several years. This small microcap company has a competitor that just so happens to be a $100 billion market cap company, albeit the product itself is very small to the larger company (1 of 1000 products it sells). Over the last few years the smaller company develops and grows the market for the product and the larger company rides along. Finally, you can almost picture some middle layer manager at the $100 billion company raise his hand and say “I think we need to look at this small product category as it’s gone from being a .001 rounding error to a .01 error (sarcasm). Now it’s becoming material. How do we hurt this small company and push them out of the way?” The large company tries to hurt the smaller company by filing a lawsuit citing some patent infringement claims. Investors in the small company are fearful this could affect the business and the stock drops 50%. This lawsuit is still going on today, but a funny thing happened. The company continues to grow like nothing happened. The company’s customers don’t care about the lawsuit because they love the company’s products and customer service. You can picture the $100 billion market cap company thinking, “Well…now how are we going to hurt them?”.

Subsequently, the tiny company, like the Bushmen, prevailed. Their strong team stood up with courage and confidence to the $100 billion market cap lion and won.

In addition, when an organization obsesses over customers they need not to focus much attention on the competition, big or small. Like Wayne Gretzky they’ll naturally go to where the puck is going to be. It is very intimidating when an adversary is moving so quickly and confidently that they act like you aren’t even there.


No matter the size, a strong leader and quality culture together can display its “fitness” leading stronger, larger competitors to compete elsewhere. Act like the African Bushmen, then you’ll have the field all to yourself!

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Cheetahs, but not wild dogs, live with lions

The Lion/Bushman Relationship in Nyae Nyae

Basic Facts Lions

San People Wikipedia


How Does One Win Against Opponents 10 Times Their Size?

A very interesting post with two relevant videos. Surprised to see the cheetahs and lions moving away despite hunger !



Thanks, @ganesh. It’s surprising the things you can learn from nature. It’s an area ripe for stealing ideas because humans tend to overlook nature.