My wife and I raise goats. Not just any goats, but Tennessee Fainting Goats (aka Myotonic or stiff legged goats). We have had a herd for about 10 years ranging from the small (4-5 goats) to the large (over 100 goats). Raising goats has been an interesting experience and with all experiences, there are many things you can learn. Here are 3 pieces of goat wisdom I have learned over the past 10 years:
Goat Wisdom #1 – Niches are important in business
The eating habits of goats are very similar to deer. For those of you who may not be that familiar with the eating habits of deer, they tend to browse and prefer leaves over grass. Both goats and deer enjoy acorns and if given the choice, will choose briers and weeds over grass. This particular feature about goats make them a great addition to cattle ranches.
A rancher will benefit from rotating cows and goats on the same pasture. As the cows eat the grass, the weeds will start to take over. After years and years of cows being on the pasture, there will be little grass and mostly weeds which makes it less efficient for the cows. If the rancher would rotate cows and goats on the same pasture, the cows will eat the grass and the goats will eat the weeds. The result is a pasture that is more efficient for the main user, the cows, as well as beneficial for the goats.
How does that relate to business? The goats have the niche of preferring weeds over the grass. Picture the goats and cows as businesses. The larger, slow moving businesses (the cows) focus on their main market (the grass). The smaller, more agile, and adaptive businesses (the goats) focus on what the larger business is leaving behind and have adapted a survival strategy around that niche. Why fight a large company head-to-head? The market may be too small for the larger business to take notice of but it represents a very lucrative customer base that is not being served.
Goat Wisdom #2 – The structure and culture of an organization can be a blessing and a curse
Tennessee Fainting goats are interesting creatures. They have a genetic condition called Myotonia Congenita that causes their muscles to tense up when they are scared or excited. These animals will often get stiff when running to be fed or after being scared. When that happens, the goat is not having a fit or anything, they just can not hardly move (before you ask, yes it is funny, no I don’t scare them all the time, and yes, I still feel bad when it happens… as I am laughing). You may be thinking that this is a cruel thing for the goats to endure but it does serve a purpose; it builds muscle.
Tennessee Fainting goats are a meat breed. Just like there are milk cows and beef cows there are milk goats and meat goats. The more muscle they build, the more meat they have and the more valuable they are.
How does that relate to business? If you consider the genetics of a Tennessee Fainting goat to be similar to a business, you may see that there can be issues within the structure and culture of a business that causes that business to be hindered in some ways. Those same issues can also be the defining feature of the business. A business may have a long history of serving customers resulting in a large, loyal customer base. That same feature may also make the business unwilling to adapt to the future and the desires of new customers. Finding the balance between maintaining your long standing reputation and attracting new customers is vital, it just takes work and an understanding of the genetic code of the business
Goat Wisdom #3 – You can see better at higher altitudes
Goats are notorious climbers. When I tell people I meet that I raise goats, I often hear childhood memories involving goats climbing on whatever they can and eating anything they can reach. Around the world, you can see goats in trees, on hills, and even in mountain ranges where very little else can go.
When we had just purchased our first few goats as babies, I was sitting in their pen being amazed that I had been talked into buying goats (but that is another story). One that I was near walked over and climbed on the toe of my shoe and stood there. He was only an inch or so higher, but he was higher. Since then, we notice that the goats will often choose the higher ground when possible.
How does that relate to business? It is often difficult to see the big picture from ground level. Business coaches and leaders often talk about a 10,000 ft view of the business. From that high up, the landscape of the market and interactions between companies can be seen to a degree that is impossible at ground level. Even at 100 ft in the air, the world around you looks different. It works the same with a business. Sometimes a business may miss the forest for the trees but by getting a little higher for a different perspective, the path may become clearer. The higher up you go, the details will become fuzzier, but the big picture will become more clear.
Who thought you could learn business lessons from goats? They can teach us how important niches are in business, how the culture of our business can both help and hurt our success, and how getting a different perspective is often a good idea. Goats are truly amazing creatures and always an adventure.
Want to learn more about Tennessee Fainting goats? Check out our site, Goatspots.com (shameless plug…)