Why Entrepreneurs Should Eat Their Young

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Ever hear stories about animals eating their young and wonder…WTF?!

Bank voles do it, house finches do it, wolf spiders do it (I honestly don’t what any of those are). Many species of fish even do it. And, they don’t just eat all their young, they actually decide who to munch and who to suckle.

According to a study by Hope Klug and colleague Michael Bonsall at the University of Oxford (reported in LiveScience):

…several factors contribute to parents developing a taste for their own offspring. In some cases, cannibalizing their own young puts the same evolutionary pressure on the eggs that a predator would: the faster the eggs develop, the greater their chances of survival.

Cannibalism was also found to increase the parent’s reproductive rate by apparently increasing mate attractiveness…

Klug said filial cannibalism could be a way to root out offspring that take too long to mature and therefore require a little too much parental care—this strategy would conserve the parents’ energy for subsequent, faster-developing batches of young.

“They initially overproduce offspring and then later remove some of the inferior offspring,” Klug explained.

General competition within a species for resources may also limit parents to the amount of energy and time they can spend raising their young, so they force their eggs to grow up fast or get eaten.

See the entrepreneurial analogy?

Entrepreneurs often get so emotionally-wed to their babies, they lose the ability to make good decisions.

They cling desperately to ideas, projects and businesses they may have had justification in bringing to life, but once alive, quickly prove to have far less potential than other projects that might engender equal passion, yet have a whole lot more runway.

And, the more they keep splitting their time, attention and nourishment on the entrepreneurial runts, the less time they have to nurture the golden opportunities.

That’s not to say runts never make a comeback…

But in a world where attention is quickly being split on an atomic level and we’re getting desperate to know where to focus and why…we might want to take a look back at the animal kingdom and ask if and when it makes sense to cull the herd.

So, what do YOU think?

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30 responses

30 responses to “Why Entrepreneurs Should Eat Their Young”

  1. Erica says:

    I am both repulsed and energized by this idea. And I never thought I’d use those words in a single sentence.

    Thanks for the percolating thoughts.

  2. Andy Fogarty says:

    I’m not sure how many I’ve had to eat up to this point, but I’ve definitely gone up a few pants sizes. Dang kids, I mean businesses, I mean kids.

  3. OK, I just lost my appetite, LOL.

    I just recently sh*t-canned stuff that had been on the back burner for so long that I just knew they were never going to make it to the dinner table (to continue the analogy).

    It was a load off my psyche for sure.

  4. Ah yes, “kill your babies” – I always follow this advice in my writing, and it’s tough but tends to be bang on.

    I most definitely applies to business, especially if you are the kind of entrepreneur who is awesome at generating sparky and exciting ideas but falls short on follow through. Focus on the babies (or even better, ONE baby)most likely to thrive and get more for the effort you invest.

    However I must add that having just had a little boy, all the imagery in this post kinda made me queasy….

  5. Wow, it took me awhile to wrap my head around it. I just thought entrepreneurs who are also parents should eat their young so they’d have more time to devote to their business. Not exactly what you meant, right?! 😉

    I do like the analogy though. There are so many ideas/projects/babies… it’s tough to not stick with one because you like it best, even if it’s not growing fast enough!

  6. Baby, it’s what’s fer’ dinner.

  7. Mike Willner says:

    Amen to that. I’ve been working on three ideas for more time than I want to admit and finally, very reluctantly, I let one of them go. It was a painful parting, but now I’m free. Free to spend more time on the other two projects and they are grateful.

  8. This definitely ranks as the most disturbing business post I’ve ever read.

    That said, I’ve been trying to shed some less profitable projects recently, so I understand what you’re saying. 🙂

  9. Erika Robuck says:

    Whoa, didn’t know where that was going from the start, but loved where it ended up. Brilliant, in fact!

  10. Daniel says:

    I was like “what the …” when this headline jumped out at me in my G.Reader.

    Thank goodness it was an expected analogy on how an entrepreneur should be able to let go of some “young” (I’d call it, unfruitful) projects.

    I too had a few that had to be let go off when I can’t visualize myself working on them 2 years later. Worked well.

  11. Anne Wayman says:

    I’m glad no one ate me because I hadn’t matured… still called a case of arrested development by some.

    I learned long ago not to get wedded to my so-called deathless prose… a writer who is not willing to be edited is not a pro… otoh, don’t look in my closet please.

  12. Alysson says:

    As Van Wilder’s dad would say, “Sometimes you have to recognize a bad investment and simply cut your losses…”. Investments don’t only come in the form of money, but of time. One of the hardest decisions to make is to give up on a project you have passion for, but is doomed to be a time suck with limited potential.

    Stubbornly dividing your focus among two uber-demanding projects may very well result in the failure of both. Nature makes the hard decisions for the greater good. Keeping everyone alive means everyone suffers and no one truly succeeds. Take a page from Mother Nature’s playbook and learn to let go. In the long run, it’s really is what’s best for your psyche and your entrepreneurial success.

  13. This is a great example of a truly shocking headline that actually DOES deliver on it’s assumed promise.

    Wish I had snapped a photo of my facial expression while reading this!

  14. Sometimes it’s so hard to let that baby go! Especially if it’s one of your favorites. I have kept a ‘baby’ for too long before. I just kept believing it would thrive eventually, but it just didn’t. Shutting those babies down is very difficult, even though I know it’s the right thing.

  15. M.M. Daniels says:

    I thought this was funny, and what a great attention grabbing title. Surprised by the animal kingdoms cannibalism but loved your comparison about entrepreneurs and their young failing projects.

  16. Sounds like great fun!

    If anything I’m too keen to cannibalise, suffering more from the related problem of having a kind of entrepreneurial ADD – too many ideas and being too quick to flit from one to the next.

    Once we’ve eaten those with less-potential it’s probably a good idea not to start the process again, until those tiddlers have left the nest at least.

  17. The animal article was repulsive, however I totally understand the business idea.

    I can relate this to something I do with my client list. Every so often, I go through my client list and notice which ones are the least profitable/the biggest pain in the butt (therefore a drain on my energy)…then I figure out a way to steer them to a different service provider, or if they are willing…train them to do it on their own…it frees up my resources to work on projects/clients that are the best use of my time, and therefore bring in more $. Everyone’s happier all around!

    On another note…I am learning about headlines right now for my own blogging purposes so the headlines are getting my attention right now. Thanks for this attention grabber!

  18. Queenie says:

    I have so many babies, I’m like the Ole’ lady that lived in a shoe HaHa! The issue for me is all my babies seems so brilliant and so full of potential. I can’t distinguish the tough off-spring from the potential losers. Everyone of them is gleaming with promise. Maybe I’m too optimistic and might never get anywhere trying to get all of them up and running. I really feel as though, if I had to choose just one…it would depress me. I would never recover from the guilt because thus far I have put so much love and attention into raising good ideas and concepts. Failure is just not an option neither is quitting…at this stage. Sadly….Or not?

  19. Chuck Frey says:

    For years, Intel chairman and CEO Andy Grove has said (and I paraphrase) “Eat your young, or somebody else will.” In other words, don’t be afraid to cannibalize your own products and services in the fight to create something even better. That applies even more so to ideas, because we tend to cling to them, and aren’t even aware when they become outdated.

  20. Katherine says:

    Shocking? Yes. Disturbing? Quite possibly.

    But then again, sometimes a good boot back into the Darwinian reality is worthwhile. All ideas are not created equal after all.

    Thank you for your thoughs – from an entrepreneurial dreamer who sometimes tries to nurture too many babies.

  21. “Parents of teenagers understand why some animals eat their young”

    I’m another who has hung onto my babies for way too long. The relief of finallly letting go is incredible, it’s such a weight off and you wonder why you didn’t let it go earlier. I think it’s because, as entrepreneurs, we tend to put so much of ourselves into every part of our business – just like our kids – and we take failures very personally.

    We need to remember it’s really not about us, it’s about our clients and their needs. If we put out a product that doesn’t fulfil a need then it deserves to die. Not sure I want to tie that one into the ‘eating your young’ analogy, LOL.

    Oh, and BTW, we have Wolf Spiders in the backyard (Australia) they dig holes in the ground and come out at night. *shudders*

  22. a) I’m a sparkle-brain, and while I’ve learned to kill off my darling phrases whilst writing, I have a hard time culling projects which are cuter than a warthog’s, um, whatever

    2) Being of a fairly sensitive stomach, I skipped over some of the italicised text; hope I didn’t miss anything

    Last) Isn’t the picture of the warthog, like, a mixed metaphor or something? They don’t eat their young, but they have young only a mother could eat. Love. I meant love.

    But, roast warthog; gotta be better than roast wolf spider.

  23. […] Why Entrepreneurs Should Eat Their Young […]

  24. Lisa Rizzio says:

    Huh. Reminds of George W. and his Iraq war. Talk about feeding the runts!

  25. […] 11, 2010 Dale Bullington Leave a comment Go to comments Jonathan Fields wrote an article called Why Entrepreneurs Should Eat Their Young. He analyzed an interesting study done by Hope Klug and Michael Bonsall who studied why some animals […]

  26. […] Why Entrepreneurs Should Eat Their Young – Jonathan Fields says it best – ” Entrepreneurs often get so emotionally-wed to their babies, they lose the ability to make good decisions”. He actually provides some information taken from a study by Hope Klug and uses it to the relationship between entrepreneurs and their still wet behind the ears followers. […]

  27. Maggie Mae says:

    Shocking… but, if entrepreneurs eating their young is an analogy for letting go of inappropriate employees who aren’t going to make it in the business at hand so they can go find their own niche — a principle my Dad expressed about his employees and one I used when I had folks working for me — then we’re doing them a favor, right? Perhaps kicking them out of the nest would have been a kinder, gentler analogy but, in my very own way, I get it!

  28. Maggie Mae says:

    Or do I? Picking a favorite from the litter and nurturing that one while allowing the others to fend for themselves (fly or flop)once out of the nest? Could be thought of as quitting on that baby. Thinking about giving birth versus actually having doing it and then nurturing the offspring to successful completion as appropriate… And how long before you realize that offspring isn’t going to make it? Do you boot it from the nest? Alter your approach to flight? That’s the question. Once birthed, should we not give it our all? And then, going back to the employee analogy, if nothing you do seems to work, then cut it loose?

  29. Isn’t it interesting how much we can learn from nature?

    I know when Civil Engineers are looking to design new roads, they watch ant colonies to review and assess traffic management in nature!