Academic journal article Journal of Business Strategies

Active Waiting as Business Strategy: Learning from the Serengeti Plains

Academic journal article Journal of Business Strategies

Active Waiting as Business Strategy: Learning from the Serengeti Plains

Article excerpt


Fast decision making, a propensity for action, and getting things done appear to be highly valued by both practitioners and academics in the United States. Under such monikers as exhibiting initiative, being proactive, walking the talk, and taking charge, getting things done is widely lauded and promoted. As a result, most managers are content to deal with day-to-day operational activities that require immediate attention, daily routines, and superficial behaviors rather than addressing important issues requiring reflection, systematic planning, creative thinking--and above all-- time. To address this often unproductive busyness the authors propose active waiting which involves the recognition that not all problems are open to a quick fix and that sometimes waiting can be a valuable option. However, waiting does not have to be passive. The authors recommend that managers act like the skilled, veteran lions of the Serengeti plains and adopt active waiting in order to be able to seize the opportune moment in pursuit of effective business strategy. This paper offers a six-step process to help leaders integrate active waiting into their supervision style and concludes with recommendations for managers.

Keywords: Business strategy, active waiting, second-mover advantage


"Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you better start running" (Friedman, 2005, p. 114).

The above quote by Thomas Friedman reminds us that organizations are competing for their very survival and that the quickest, swiftest, and fastest continue to live another day while those left behind become food for the lion. Fast action enables both people and organizations to survive and flourish. However, while running is important for lions, lions also need to be cautious in doing so. Younger lions lacking in experience, will instinctively chase targets often resulting in failure. Successful hunters surprise their victims after carefully scanning the horizon and patiently waiting with focused attention for just the right circumstances before taking action (Stander & Albon, 1993). The key to the lion's survival is not only size and strength, but also cleverness in knowing when and how to attack their prey. Even when hungry, lions will forego a meal rather than hazard a hasty and uncontrolled attack (Haas, 2013).

The Serengeti plains of Africa provide us with an important lesson regarding business strategy. That lesson features an overemphasis on quick decision making and speed of action that in many instances at the expense of reflective thinking, thoughtfulness, and resourcefulness demonstrated by the lions' successful hunting strategy. Both the academic and practitioner literature in the United States emphasize the importance of quick decision making and fast action.

Taking Action--The Practitioner's Perspective

The emphasis on swift action has become so entrenched in management thinking that FastCompany, and their magazine is now a popular read for many business managers. The bias for action has also been underscored by many practitioner-oriented books. For example, Eccles and Nohria (1992), in their book Beyond the Hype wrote that "Management was, is, and always will be the same thing: the art of getting things done.... And to get things done, managers must act themselves and mobilise collective action on the part of others" (p. 32). Further, Kelley (1998) emphasized initiative along with other proactive behaviors as the explanation that distinguishes top perfonning employees from average employees in his book How to Be a Star at Work. In addition, Bruch and Ghoshal (2004) stated in their book A Bias for Action, that management is essentially the art of doing and getting things done. …

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