Surviving Your Serengeti: 7 Skills to Master Business and Life
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An interview with Stefan Swanepoel, author of
SURVIVING YOUR SERENGETI
Q. You grew up in Africa and in Asia, then immigrated to the United States, building on a top-flight career in real estate. Were the parallels between business and the African jungle always readily apparent to you, or was there an ‘aha’ moment when you realized the similarities?
A. On a recent trip back to Africa, it struck me that there were strong parallels between life in the Serengeti plains and in the business world today. The animals of East Africa must migrate, they must keep moving forward and they must rely on their inborn skills to survive. The same is true in business; while it’s not usually a life-or-death scenario, as is the case in the Serengeti, people looking to advance their career or successfully run their own business – or succeed at any other challenge – must realize their innate skill and capitalize on it.
Q. The story, which involves an executive struggling to keep his company afloat, while his wife was recently laid off from her teaching job, is certainly a timely one. Was it the economy that prompted you to write the book?
A. Only in part. There have always been challenges for companies and individuals to overcome, but the environment we’re currently in seemed to accentuate everyone’s need to survive in these very difficult times.
This book is about persevering over whatever challenging conditions you may be facing and surviving your own “Serengeti.” Whether you’re looking for a job after a long period of being unemployed, struggling to keep your job while balancing more projects with fewer colleagues to help you juggle the load, trying to keep your company alive through the recession or dealing with challenges in your personal life, this book provides a strong, and hopeful, message of survival – something I think we all need, particularly in today’s economy.
Q. You outline seven skills, as portrayed by the animals of the Serengeti. Is there any one animal or one skill that seems to prevail over the others, or do all skills hold equal value? Does each person possess all seven skills, or do they possess only one?
A. No one skill is any more important than the others; in fact, each of these skills is essential in business and in life in general. What is important is that you realize which skill you instinctively turn to when facing a challenge. Which one skill is your instinctive survival skill that you’re hardwired with, and work to hone that skill to improve your chances for success.
We are multi-facetted humans with multiple talents and skills. So while we are not limited to just one “Serengeti” skill, there is one skill that is the most dominant in each of us. Your task is to identify that innate skill that makes you, you!
Q: How do today’s entrepreneurs, business leaders and workers determine their instinctive skill?
Know yourself. Accept yourself. Understand the skills that make you who you are. Maximize the skills and talents you have. Make sure you know and understand whom the other “animals” in your urban jungle are and what their skills are. A fun way to start is to take the short, three minute online quiz at www.WhatAnimalAmI.com. This is not intended to be a complicated DISC analysis or an in-depth Myers Briggs test. It’s a fun way to open a discussion with a co-worker, a colleague or a friend about who they are.
For example, if someone takes the test and discovers they are a wildebeest, the discussion can start with focusing on that person’s ability to endure more than the average person, his willingness to be tenacious and never give up and his aptitude to stay the course and make sure projects get finished, while others may already be wandering off to greener pastures.
This doesn’t make the wildebeest better than anyone else on the team, but makes him a valuable asset to the team. Knowing that your colleague is tenacious will enable you to have a better understanding of some of his decisions and input and will most likely foster a deeper appreciation for what he brings to the table. That applies to every animal and every skill set.
Whether improving your own skills, helping someone discover their unique skills or learning how to better work with all the animals in the “concrete” jungle, the book takes you on a safari of self-discovery like no other.
Q: With unemployment rates soaring, what advice would you give people, in terms of how to use their skill, as they begin – or continue – their job search?
Believe in yourself. Not an unbridled, ignorant, arrogance. But a determined, balanced, founded resolve. Discover your real strength, your innate skill and use that to leverage and position yourself correctly.
Take a dash of wisdom from the lead character of the Serengeti migration, even if you are not a wildebeest. Be tenacious and make the commitment to see through whatever you set your sights on to its conclusion.
People give up way too easily, shift the blame or pass the buck. It’s your journey; stop focusing on negative and external factors. Focus and run your own race.
Q. You chose the fable format for this book. Why?
A. When solving problems, sharing experiences or clarifying situations, I often find myself using a metaphor. I believe that sketching complex situations into fun parables allows people to understand and remember things easier. I am a storyteller at heart, so when I decided to expand my technical writing beyond my current portfolio of books about trends, change and technology, I was looking for an epic parable. But not just an everyday story, but something bigger than life.
And I found it in the Serengeti: The largest concentration of wildlife and the largest migration of mammals on the planet.
The awe-inspiring beauty – not only of nature, but some unique animals such as the elephant, the largest mammal on the planet; the cheetah, the fastest animal on the planet; and the crocodile, one of the oldest animals on the planet – needed to be portrayed in a story.
Q. Who were you writing for? Describe the reader you had in mind when you wrote the book.
A. This book is written for anyone who has faced, is facing or will one day face a challenge. This is a story that shows you that you can survive.
Have you ever woken up dreading the day ahead? Ever lost a job or thought you were in the wrong one? Ever struggled to keep your company afloat or balance household expenses? Ever struggled to raise a teenager or been a teenager with parents who just didn’t get it? We have all faced challenges similar to these at some stage of our lives, and many of us are there right now. This book, this story, this journey is for you.
Q. If readers took just one thing away after reading the book, what do you hope it would be?
A. That there are answers. There are skills that will help you take action and live the life you most want. Best of all, you already have those untapped skills within you. Time to find the animal in you.
Make a plan and use your resources effectively. Be enterprising, and take calculated risks. Stay the course. Share your message, and be grateful. And enjoy the opportunities and the people you meet along the way.