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Remix – Of Lions, Gazelles, Aspirations, and Globalism

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Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed.  Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve…

…it doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or gazelle – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.


Heard that story a thousand times before?  This story has been told over and over for decades to motivate teams, groups, organizations, divisions, and just about any group of people.  The message is clear: no matter who you are – from the corporate executives to the mail room clerk – every day you have to run.

A couple of weeks ago I heard a few people talking about this story.  People are amazingly creative.  They took this story and remixed the meaning of it.  Quite remarkable – at least to my way of thinking.  But, perhaps typical – read on.

One of the people talking about the story of the Lion and Gazelle made an astute observation.  The observation being  that a gazelle really doesn’t have to run faster than the fastest lion as the story would have you believe – a gazelle only has to run faster than the slowest gazelle in the pack.


So, lets see what some of the implications would be to this type of thinking and reinterpretation of the traditional story of lions, gazelles, and running to survive. 

First the story of the lion and the gazelle pits a gazelle against a lion.  In the remix by the astute observer the gazelle is compared to other gazelles – not a lion.  Gazelles are not competing against lions – they are competing against other gazelles.  So, your aspiration as a gazelle is not to be faster than the fastest  lion just faster than the slowest, most feeble, and lame member of the gazelle pack in which you run.  Nice!

Second, good for lions.  Gazelles in the remix interpretation of the story have reset their standards downward.  Once our astute gazelle spreads the idea to other gazelles and gets their acceptance of this new interpretation their aspiration won’t be to be  faster than the  fastest lions just one click better than the most broke-down gazelle.  With lower aspirations, and lower achievement of gazelles, Lions may just have an easier time taking down Gazelles in general.

And third – think about this – a sort of butterfly effect.  With lower Gazelle standards lions might get lazy.  Since gazelles only run as fast as the most broke-down gazelle not as fast as the fastest lion then their prey is less competitive.  If the prey is less competitive then lions have less incentive to be at the top of their running game.

So, it starts with one gazelle who changes the game from running against the fastest lions to competing against the slowest gazelle in the pack.  What is the net effect on the ecosystem of lions, gazelles, running, and the competition for survival?

America – The State of the Union 2011

On January 25,2011 President Obama gave the State of the Union Address.  Here are a few excerpts…

Meanwhile, nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. They’re investing in research and new technologies. Just recently, China became the home to the world’s largest private solar research facility, and the world’s fastest computer.

So, yes, the world has changed. The competition for jobs is real. But this shouldn’t discourage us. It should challenge us. Remember — for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. (Applause.) No workers — no workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We’re the home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth…

The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still. As Robert Kennedy told us, “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.” Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.

Connecting the dots

It seems that in just about every company there is a civil war between the leaders of the company and the employees.  Executive management tells the story of the Lion and the Gazelle in order to motivate people to a higher level of achievement.  While, at the same time, other groups in the organization listen to astute gazelles try to convince other gazelles that they really don’t need to run faster than the fastest lion – just one click faster than the slowest member of the group.  In Obama’s 2011 State of the Union Address it is clear the level of aspiration he is trying to communicate to the American people.  Yet, at the same time, in America there is a growing entitlement society saying that we need not compete with any lions for survival.

Corporations are sometimes victims of their own culture

Sometimes, corporations are unwittingly victims of their culture.  They may verbally promote achievement but, at the same time, incentive systems are not aligned with these goals.  In fact, incentive systems may discourage the exact behavior toward achievement that they verbally espouse. 

When Ed Zander took over as CEO of Motorola after the board ousted Chris Galvin – the grandson of Paul Galvin (founder of Motorola) and the son of Robert Galvin (Chief of Motorola, 1959–1990) – Crain’s Chicago Business ran an interview with Zander with regard to what he found at Motorola when he got there – as an “outsider”.

Probably one of the most interesting parts of the interview was when Zander talked about the entitlement culture he found at Motorola.  Especially, the discovery of the term “Galvin-ized”.  Motorola employees got “Galvin-ized” after 10 years of service.  This meant that they could not be fired without CEO Galvin’s approval.

Is this sort of job entitlement aligned with incentives for achievement?  If a company makes it extremely difficult to get rid of poor performers then this just encourages doing as little as possible.  Without external standards – or no standards – no lions – then you don’t even need to be the slowest gazelle in the pack – you might not even need to run at all.   You just need 10 years of service to put up a significant roadblock such that it might be such a bureaucratic nightmare to fire poor performers that levels of management just let them stay on.

Chris Galvin created a sort of protected refuge for slow gazelles at Motorola at the shareholders expense.  Zander could clearly see this system of job entitlement as a debilitating effect on Motorola’s ability to compete in the marketplace.  When Zander took over as CEO from Chris Galvin he abolished being “Galvin-ized”.

At the other end of the spectrum is CEO Jack Welch.  Welch aligned  company achievement with workforce incentive systems.  No entitlement at General Electric.  Welch’s metrics are pretty simple:  Every GE division had to be number 1 or number 2 in the market or exit.  Welch backed this up with the gazelle-frightening Vitality Curve.  Weak gazelles were ejected from the group.  There is no safe refuge at G.E.

Nations are sometimes victims of their own culture

Even though President Obama will promote American innovation and achievement in the State of the Union Address its polar opposite and antithesis is alive, well, and fully supported by the government.  In America that’s the entitlement society and welfare state that is growing in numbers and becoming a significant voting block (read).   Is Obama’s vision as articulated in the 2011 State of the Union Address aligned with a thriving welfare state?


I heard this recently from the president of a Fortune 500 company in regard to the corporate strategy for the next 3 years…  “It will be business as usual – but not as we know it.”  In short, the world is changing.

Here are a few more excerpts from Obama’s 2011 State of the Union Address

The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation. None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from. Thirty years ago, we couldn’t know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution. What we can do — what America does better than anyone else — is spark the creativity and imagination of our people. We’re the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It is how we make our living. (Applause.)

That dream is why I can stand here before you tonight. That dream is why a working-class kid from Scranton can sit behind me. (Laughter and applause.) That dream is why someone who began by sweeping the floors of his father’s Cincinnati bar can preside as Speaker of the House in the greatest nation on Earth. (Applause.)

That dream — that American Dream — is what drove the Allen Brothers to reinvent their roofing company for a new era. It’s what drove those students at Forsyth Tech to learn a new skill and work towards the future. And that dream is the story of a small business owner named Brandon Fisher.

Brandon started a company in Berlin, Pennsylvania, that specializes in a new kind of drilling technology. And one day last summer, he saw the news that halfway across the world, 33 men were trapped in a Chilean mine, and no one knew how to save them.

But Brandon thought his company could help. And so he designed a rescue that would come to be known as Plan B. His employees worked around the clock to manufacture the necessary drilling equipment. And Brandon left for Chile.

Along with others, he began drilling a 2,000-foot hole into the ground, working three- or four-hour — three or four days at a time without any sleep. Thirty-seven days later, Plan B succeeded, and the miners were rescued. (Applause.) But because he didn’t want all of the attention, Brandon wasn’t there when the miners emerged. He’d already gone back home, back to work on his next project.

And later, one of his employees said of the rescue, “We proved that Center Rock is a little company, but we do big things.” (Applause.)

We do big things.

From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That’s how we win the future.

We’re a nation that says, “I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company.” “I might not come from a family of college graduates, but I will be the first to get my degree.” “I might not know those people in trouble, but I think I can help them, and I need to try.” “I’m not sure how we’ll reach that better place beyond the horizon, but I know we’ll get there. I know we will.”

We do big things. (Applause.)

The idea of America endures. Our destiny remains our choice. And tonight, more than two centuries later, it’s because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our union is strong.

Thank you. God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

… all I have to do is run faster than the slowest member of the pack…


In the era of globalism the lion is the global juggernaut of emerging nations who have discovered freedom, capitalism, innovation, and education and are on a trajectory to eat America for lunch.

It just takes a few people to set the tone and limits of aspiration of a whole group whether that group is a corporation or a nation.

“Our destiny remains our choice.”.  Be careful who you run with.  Be careful who you listen to and the stories they tell about lions, gazelles, and how fast you need to run for your – or the nations – survival.


The full text of Obama’s State of the Union Speech 2011 –

Ed Zander, (former) CEO of Motorola, on the entitlement culture at Motorola from Crain’s Chicago Business

Jack Welch – On Differentiation: Or, making winners out of everyone

Jack Welch on Candor – It just unnerves people… the biggest change for the better

What is remix of a story or culture…

Written by frrl

February 13, 2011 at 12:24 am

3 Responses

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  1. May I point out that you miss something in this rather smart analogy…?
    There is not only one Lion after the Gazelle pack. As a Lion, you are not only competing against the weakest Gazelle, but you are also competing against a bunch of other hungry lions. And usually that also means that more then one Gazelle will find its demise to feline fangs. This changes the whole economical structure again. It is not a race against one lazy idiot, who does not get it, or there would be more aspiration, but it is a race against a chaos of gluttony and bloodlust.
    The the pack breaks out of the grass and starts its spring and seeds out the weak ones quickly, it is often pure luck. A group chased by three to four hungry females will simply flee in panic and try their best to stay out of the reach of the vicious carnivores and hope for the best. And the unlucky, weak and old are the ones getting ripped apart.
    And then starts the struggle on the top of the food chain. Who gets to eat first and the best pieces? And it is a struggle all over again and hope for the best. Only a few clawed and growled their way to the top of the game, and pride.


    September 18, 2012 at 10:00 pm

  2. I’d love to use this image. Can you let me know who it belongs to?


    August 15, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    • I get all my images from yahoo image search. I do not use copyrighted images if I know they are copyrighted or owned by someone, or under some sort of commons that requires attribution. For this one, I was not aware that anyone owned it – it just popped up on Yahoo image search when I put in a few keywords. You can use any image on this web site after double-checking if someone owns it. If I mistakenly put up an owned image I will take it down under the image owners request – you should do the same if you use an image for which you have done due dilegence on owership but mistakenly use an image under any sort of restricted use


      August 15, 2012 at 3:59 pm

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