“Teaching the Elephants to Dance”

Well, I am not going to talk about elephant dance. This is a book written by Professor James A. Belasco in the early 90’s that carries relevance till today. Simply put, he explains that corporations act like powerful elephants that learn from the past through conditioning or ongoing experience. To elaborate on how trainers handle elephants, he wrote: “Trainers shackle young elephants with heavy chains to deeply embedded stakes. In that way the elephant learns to stay in its place. Older elephants never try to leave even though they have the strength to pull the stake and move beyond. Their conditioning limits their movements with only a small metal bracelet around their foot – attached to nothing.” In the same way, a successful big corporation, for example, thinks that since the past strategy worked well to pave the way of its success, we are doing the right thing and this will continue forever. There is no need to change because we have been successful. This is how an organization gets trapped by its success. It cannot rethink, even though its surrounding might change that would call for playing by new rules of game.

Since its publication 23 years ago, numerous organizations died of this inertia, and others survived by re-learning and exiting from this “success” trap. The latest addition to this re-learning list includes Nike, a renowned brand for its quality shoes and sports accessories. The company is currently diversifying into unrelated businesses, despite their current success in the market they are playing in. Guess what, Nike is getting into mobile apps, wearable smart devices and software business. Mark Parker, CEO of Nike, elaborates: “In the world we live in today, you have to adapt and change. One of my fears is being this big, slow, constipated, bureaucratic company that’s happy with its success. That will wind up being your death in the end.”

Nike, being a powerful global brand, is finally learning to dance despite having its elephant figure!


About 1mmarketing

Working as Associate Professor, School of Business, United International University, Bangladesh; a North-American graduate, with doctoral studies from UUM, Malaysia; cherishing a wide-view of the world, with multiple interests in culture, people, traveling, and specifically marketing science. I have a colorful and diversified background with a blend of corporate experience, research, consulting, training, public speaking and teaching. I love to write about marketing issues that affect our lives, and talk about its direction that would promote the greatest human welfare.
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One Response to “Teaching the Elephants to Dance”

  1. Ron Strauss says:

    You may like a book with a similar title written by Louis V. Gerstner who led the turnaround of IBM entitled “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?” It’s a riveting first-person account of how a massively large enterprise re-invented itself.

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