Montreal writer Melanie Watt is the author of a wonderful book about a squirrel who enjoys being in his nut tree and avoids the unknown at all costs. Scaredy Squirrel, as Watt named the title character, goes about his day, every day, in exactly the same way. He even builds a survival kit just in case he falls into the unknown and encounters some of the things he’s most scared of … spiders, green Martians and sharks.

One day Scaredy Squirrel falls out of his nut tree.  As he hurtles toward the unknown, he thinks of everything that he might encounter: The green Martians would get him, the sharks would eat him and, most worrisome, he would see spiders. But as he was falling something fantastic happened. As Scaredy Squirrel reached out, he started to soar.  Instead of falling to the ground, he flew. Scaredy Squirrel was a Flying Squirrel!

This chance event changed Scaredy Squirrel for the rest of his life. The daily routine changed, his fears subsided, and he understood just how important, and fun, it was to stretch out his arms and fly.

When Watt wrote Scaredy Squirrel, I wonder if she had any idea how many parallels there were between her story and the culture of fear and routine of many large corporations.

Corporations have processes, people and entire departments dedicated to staying in their nut trees. And why not? After all, the nut trees provide them everything they need … until they don’t.

Corporations need to stop being afraid of the unknown and embrace their inner flying squirrel. It doesn’t mean that they leave the nut trees forever. Those nut trees provide a lot for them, and probably will for a long time, but things can change very quickly in the world of business, and if they haven’t ever tested the unknown, they won’t know how to deal with disruption when it happens.

What can corporations learn from Scaredy Squirrel? First, they need to explore the unknown and learn from it. Second, forget all the stories about Martians and spiders. There are new customers and new opportunities out in the unknown that need to be found. Third, they need to support the individuals in the organization who already know they are flying squirrels. Encourage them to fly, experiment, and report back on what they learned in the unknown.

The Nimble Hippo is always looking for others to help share his message in the animal kingdom, and Scaredy Squirrel has a special place in the Hippo’s heart.

Lessons Learned

  1. Don’t be afraid to jump first. You never know, you might be a flying squirrel.
  2. Even though you think your nut tree provides you with everything you need, there are a lot more nut trees out there to explore. You can’t do that from your current tree.
  3. Spiders, green Martians and sharks are often more scary in stories than in real life. It’s amazing what you can learn if you go and meet them.

Photo: Squirrel 03 by GabboT is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Nimble Hippo looks at how large organizations can build innovative cultures and disruptive strategies by taking the best lessons from startup ecosystems and applying them in a big-company context.

About The Author

Craig Haney
Director, Corporate Innovation, Communitech

Craig is leading the charge for corporate innovation in Canada. His work with Canadian Tire Innovations helped launch the LeanLab project at Communitech, helping large, non-tech companies become faster and more innovative by engaging with startups. As Director of Corporate Innovation at Communitech, his focus is to grow the ecosystem by exposing small companies to big problems they can solve for some of Canada’s largest players. Craig has an undergraduate degree from the University of Western Ontario and a Masters of Business, Entrepreneurship, and Technonogy (MBET) from the University of Waterloo.