Parable of Kitten Taming

It’s time to return to story of Barney and Bailum.  Last year, I wrote about their separate paths through the circus business: Bailum succeeding with a lean model and Barney failing with a “go big” strategy.  This parable opens with Bailum taking pity on Barney and bringing him into her thriving animal training business.

Bailum had grown her Lion taming business from the ground up.  She started from humble beginnings with untrained dogs; consequently, she’d learned about building rapport and trust with her performers.  She never considered them to be animals.  To her, everyone in her organization (especially the animals) was a valued contributor.  She’d seen first-hand that just one bad link in the chain could cause a great performance team to turn sour.  Her acts won awards and she was proud to have them in the spotlight while she focused on building trust and a sustainable culture.

Unfortunately, Barney did not share his sister’s experience or values.  He only saw the name that she’d built for the company and felt that he could use his position and relationship to promote himself.   Even though he knew nothing of animal training, he was eager to redirect his staff into new areas.  Reading market data and without consulting his trainers, he decided that a cute kitten acts would attract more business than the company’s successful dogs acts.

Overnight, he released the dogs and acquired kittens from a local shelter.  Some of his trainers simply quit while others made an attempt to follow the new direction.  Barney was impatient for success and started watching the trainers learning to work with the frisky felines.  Progress was slow and Barney vented his frustration by yelling at the trainers and ultimately putting shock collars on the kittens.  In short order, the trainers had left and Barney was being sprayed, scratched and bitten by the cats.

When Bailum learned about her brother’s management approach she was mortified; unfortunately, he had also signed contracts promising kitten acts to their customers.   After restructuring her familial entanglements, she took a personal interest in training the kittens.  She immediately recognized that cats require independence instead of direction compared to dogs.  Starting from careful handling, then bringing in her lion tamers and rewarding positive results, she created working troop.  The final results were so effective (and logistics so much easier) that Bailum ultimately transformed her business to focus on them exclusively.

Moral: you can’t force cats to bark but, with the right approach, kittens can outperform lions

Parable of Lions and Elephants

ElephantThere was once a family with two children: Barney and Bailum.  Both wanted wanted to start a circus and did exactly that when they came into their inheritance.  Being highly competitive, they each wanted to have the greatest show the world has ever seen.

Always ambitious, Barney wanted to start big and decided to start with elephants.  To have an elephant act, Barney has a lot of planning to do.  Even before acquiring the actual elephants, he had to get permits, hire handlers, arrange transport and arrange special feeding.  He really had to get busy and make some plans even before he could start on the tusks of selling tickets.

Bailum, more humble, decided to start by training some stray dogs into an animal act.  While not nearly as exciting as elephants, she was able to procure dogs immediately and start training them.  Instead of having to host her own shows, she was able to bring the dogs into other people’s shows.  That let her gain critical experience, get a reputation and even have positive cash flow.

Barney was merciless about Bailum’s flea bag circus.  Barney was 100% confident that his vision of a grand circus was the right plan because that’s what he saw from going to other shows.  Based on her behind the scenes experience, Bailum was starting to learn that running a circus was a lot more than the animal shows.  Some of those tasks, like booking venues, selling ads and clown discipline, made cleaning up after elephants look like a circus highlight.

As time went on, Bailum extended her expertise with dogs into lions, horses and even bipedal simians.  Her business was thriving as a specialist for other circuses to such an extent that she abandoned adjusted her original ringmaster vision and embraced a new plan as an animal specialist.  Based on her discussions with her circus partners, her limited scope as a lion trainer was more profitable than their lives in the spotlight.

Meanwhile, Barney was still working out the issues with his elephants.  It seemed like every time he turned around there was a new complication.  After spending every penny on getting his glorious African pachyderms he discovered that his cages were sized for Indian elephants (which are smaller).  Out of money and unable to operate, Barney had to abandon his vision and go back to clown school.

It’s hard to eat an elephant, but if you start with something you can handle then you can learn to tame lions.