Guiding the Goats in Your Firm

Continuing with my recent menagerie theme, today let’s think about goats. Goats? Yes, Moroccan domestic goats, to be specific. As you can see from the picture in this post, these goats are quite extraordinary; they have the ability to forage for food — in treetops. Why is this interesting? Because by nature goats know how to climb hilly terrain but they do not know how to climb trees. So what gives?

Here’s how Nicholas Bakalar, writing in the New York Times, tells their story:

These domestic goats live in southwestern Morocco, where the climate is dry and in some seasons the only available forage is in the trees. So the goats climb up to get it.

Goats are good climbers — some sure-footed species live happily on mountains, leaping from ledge to ledge. But these domestic goats are not born with an ability to climb trees. They learn the technique as kids.

Their keepers help them climb, and they trim the trees to make it easier for the kids. The goats eventually learn to do it themselves. In the autumn, when there is little food on the ground, they spend most of their time grazing the treetops.

Because the readers of this blog tend to be smarter than the average bear (sorry — I am obsessed with animals this summer!), you will probably have figured out exactly where I am headed. This story has some great lessons for knowledge management personnel:

  • The goats in your firm — and you can define who is a goat in your firm! — are not born with the natural ability to do most of the things you and your knowledge management colleagues know how to do.
  • To train goats properly, you must start by teaching them when they are kids — grab them when they are summer associates and help them learn how to work efficiently and effectively. Above all, teach them early to question “the way we’ve always done it around here.”
  • You will need to provide support for the kids until they master the necessary skills. This support is especially critical because some older billy goats will be dismissive of the value of the knowledge you have to impart. And, some of those billy goats will be worried that these new skills will reduce billable hours. So you will have to help the kids withstand the negative pressure from the goat gerontocracy.
  • You will need to trim the trees to make it easier for the goats.  This means creating sensible, frictionless systems and then removing any unforeseen roadblocks that might arise.
  • The goats must eventually learn to do things for themselves. You cannot hold their hooves forever.
  • This is a matter of survival — it will help them be productive in the lean seasons and the busy seasons.

So here are a couple of question for you: Can the goats in your firm graze in treetops yet? If not, when will you start guiding the goats in your firm so they can learn to do things they would otherwise never be able to do?

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For more critical knowledge on goats and goatherds, see this extract from the greatest movie ever made 😉

[Photo Credit: Arnaud 25, Wikimedia]

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