Why should Mastodons mean anything to your organization

Recent studies on the extinction of mastodons appear to have little relevancy to the world of nonprofits, faith-based organizations or any company. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If the research is correct, the Mastodon’s demise is the result of one of the earliest examples of humans learning to collaborate with each other. In spite of innate competitive qualities (reinforced by the message that only the strongest survive), our earliest ancestors realized that in order to persevere in an incredibly precarious situation, they needed to come together, exploit each other’s strengths, and compensate for each other’s weaknesses. Only then could they eat and survive (even when outweighed two hundred  to one).

Paleontology teaches us that these ancestors utilized strategies that capitalized on some member’s speed, other’s strength, others ingenuity and other’s throwing abilities.  Even after the death of the giant mastodon, additional specialists stepped forward with the skills and talents to skin the beast, preserve the meat and hide, and turn the bones into tools. Ancient humanity perfected the art of teamwork and collaboration – and through their efforts, thrived (even if the inevitable end was the extinction of this magnificent creature).

We live in a far less precarious time. Most of our meat is as close as the local market, and few college classes are offered in spear throwing and skinning. Perhaps that is why, so many of us have clearly forgotten, over the past 10,000 years, the most valuable of these lessons.

In spite of our ancestor’s successful collaborative efforts, it appears that in the world of nonprofits (and for profits for that matter), collaboration remains a dirty thirteen-letter word. Thus, unlike our Cro-Magnum cousins who understood and embraced the concept – collaborate or starve – most organizations (and people) focus too much on what they will lose or have to give up and NOT on what can be achieved through effective collaboration.

Advocates (including funders) do not help the situation when they speak only of the benefits of collaboration (e.g., the greater communal good, cost savings) without acknowledging the very real and equally powerful impact of potential loss. Greater good, while important, does not adequately address the very real and human dynamic of WIFM (what’s in it for me).

While on the best of days, most of us believe in the greater good, it takes quite a leap for an organization (let alone a person) to accept giving up something they value.  We forget that even in the best of collaborations, not everyone will derive the same benefits (how many our ancient ancestors literally died for the greater good of providing food). This is reality.

Success requires the need to openly and honestly acknowledge the potential losses that may come from collaboration. They cannot be minimized or ignored. Change management teaches that the ultimate benefits of any change (e.g., the specific collaborative effort) must outweigh the losses by at least four times. As your organization looks to collaborate, it is essential that you identify and clearly articulate the very real benefits that can and will come from the effort.  Only then, can you overcome the primary obstacle of “whats in it for me” and achieve ultimate success.


Lou is the CEO of Dynamic Change Solutions, and a certified practitioner of the Change Style Indicator ® which can help create a collaborative culture in your organization. For a free 30 minute consultation email me or to learn more about our company, please visit Dynamic Change Solutions.

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