Lessons from a mother cat

The concept of “survival of the fittest” is well-established in the animal kingdom, but it can also be applied to the equally competitive world of commerce.  After all, it will be the organisations that are able to develop and adapt most quickly that will stand the greatest chance of success in a tough and highly competitive trading climate.

It is important to remember that an organisation is not just the products and services that it supplies, but also – arguably, more importantly – the people within it.  When we consider how adaptable an organisation is, we need to consider the skills and talents of the people within it.  Without them, the organisation is simply a name.

Last spring, during lockdown, a stray cat moved in to my shed looking for a place to have kittens.  For the first few weeks, tiny little bundles of fur were moved from one spot in the shed to another as the mother cat nurtured them and protected them from harm.  The firm of Mother Cat Inc had begun its induction process, covering the basic topics of food and shelter.  As the bundles of fur grew in to bigger and bigger kittens, the somewhat larger firm of Mother Cat and Company launched a programme of Continuing Professional Development, taking basic skills and understanding of the world and developing it in to detailed and specific knowledge.  This programme provides the tools to improve the performance of the organisation (i.e. catching more food, and keeping each other safe), as well as providing conditions for the organisation to expand (taking more territory from unsuspecting rivals).

The CPD programme of the Cat family highlighted some valuable lessons about how and where we learn that can be applied equally to the world of commerce.  Let’s take some examples:

As the kittens grew older and more adventurous, they would spend time with their mother learning about the environment around them and exploring.  As they explored, they found new perils – such as hidden pools of mud, or roofs that were just that little bit too high to jump from safely and shared their knowledge so that all could benefit.  Some of the learning was by experience – sometimes painful or distressing - some of the learning was by observing others.  Mistakes were made but were used to inform future decisions rather than as a cause for blame or shame.

Even the mother cat learned from the experiences of her kittens – for example, finding the larder window that wasn’t quite closed and could easily be opened by an outstretched paw to reach the food within, or learning the technique of walking directly between the legs of the old farm dog to sneak up on the dish of dog food.

The whole range of learning experiences combine to develop knowledge and understanding – from training sessions on a specific topic to independent enquiry and learning by doing.

When developing training programmes for our own organisations, it is important to recognise that learning can happen in a diverse range of settings and does not have to involve a formal teaching or training session.  It does, however, need to involve an element of reflection so that lessons learned can be identified and acted on – whether that’s finding a new and better way of achieving something, or identifying a gap in our understanding of a topic.

The Development Zone is designed to support a wide range of training programmes and strategies, including material devised and developed by subject experts, as well as features to allow you to develop and incorporate material specifically for members of your own organisation.  For more information about the range of tools and content available, why not visit www.mydevelopment.zone or, if you already have a DevZone account, why not try our DevZone Academy and find out more about the capabilities of the platform.

(For those of you wondering about Mother Cat and Company, I’m pleased to say that following a successful year of trading, the company was dissolved, with the younger members leaving for new homes to set up franchised offices in other areas and Mother Cat herself is currently enjoying a well-earned retirement in a cosy basket in front of the fire.)

About the author

Lisa joined RWA in 2014 as an e-Learning Assistant and now heads up RWA’s Design and Content Team. Her role as Head of Content and Communications involves managing content creation and curation on the Aviva Development Zone platform and serving as editor of RWA Insight.

Lisa has diverse creative and technical writing experience. She holds a first class honours degree in English and Creative Writing from Swansea University and graduated from Cardiff Metropolitan University with a Distinction in Creative Writing in 2016.

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