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

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