5 Timeless Business Lessons from Our Ancestors
  • Reading time:6 mins read

In the Kalahari Desert, there are a group of people who haven’t changed their ways for tens of thousands of years. These are the San people. They are the oldest continuous inhabitants of Southern Africa.

One could say that they are the first successful humans. So successful were their methods that they still use them today.

Their timeless techniques can teach us something about success, both in life and in business.

The most common cause of death in ancient times was simply a shortage of food. This caused them to be malnourished and succumb to diseases or die of starvation.

Revenue is the lifeblood of business, like food is to people.

This is where they excelled, though. One of the hunting techniques that they still use today is called persistence hunting.

If we follow their techniques, perhaps our businesses will also be around for a long time to come.

Choose your target wisely

A group of hunters will track down a herd of antelope.

They choose antelope because they know that they can easily be frightened. Antelopes are constantly in fear that one of the big cats are about to pounce on them.

Their ears are tuned to the slightest footstep or the faintest rustle in the long grass.

The San understand the antelope’s behaviour. They know their strengths and their weaknesses. They’ve been studying them for all their lives. After all, their lives depend on it.

In business, we need to apply the same rules when targeting a customer, a competitor or a new employee we want to hire. We need to spend the time and do our homework before going on the offensive.

You can’t spend your entire life planning, or you’ll never get anywhere. Action will lead to results but planned action will lead to better results.

Know your target well, and you can choose the right method to approach them. Act as if your life depended on understanding your target.

Focus on one thing at a time

The next step for the hunters is to attempt to separate one of the antelopes from the herd.

The entire team will focus on the single task of getting one of the antelope to part with the rest of the herd. The hunters will use any means necessary.

They understand the antelope’s mindset. They will run, shout, and even throw objects until they get one of the antelope to separate from its herd.

In business, the same tactic is necessary for success. You need to get the whole team working together on the most critical task.

It’s still baffling how some companies with this knowledge are moving in so many directions. Doing so many different things that are not relevant to the success of the business.

What’s called inefficiency in a corporate can mean bankruptcy in a small business.

Get your team clear on the goal and don’t start doing anything until everyone is on the same page.

Use the specialist

After the group has successfully separated one of the animals, they choose just one hunter to chase him down. This is the best runner in the group. While he is working for the team’s success, he is using his specific skillsets.

The runner practices and trains for this, day in and day out. He is the specialist.

In business, you need to use the right person for the job. You need to choose the most skilled person for the task at hand without fear or favour. As simple as this sounds, it is far more complex in real life.

You need to understand your team deeply to truly know their skillsets. In this ever-changing world with new skills required all the time it’s ever more important.

You may not always have the opportunity or money to hire new skills and will have to make specialists of your own by supporting and training them.

The only way to develop your own specialist is to understand each individual’s potential.

Persist until you succeed

The antelope is faster than the runner, and he will struggle to keep up. The only difference is that while most animals must slow down to catch their breath and cool down, humans can continue for hours on end.

We can even outrun horses and cheetahs eventually because we can just keep on going.

The hunter will keep on persisting even when the antelope seems far ahead, and it looks like an impossible task to keep up.

He knows he will catch up to the antelope eventually when it slows down, as long as he keeps persisting.

Eventually, the antelope will not be able to go on any longer; he will slow to a snail’s pace and fall on its side, unable to continue.

It always seems in life and business that others are so far ahead of you. The only thing that keeps you from success is your unwillingness to persist.

It’s ingrained in our blood to persist. It’s our most remarkable quality. We are designed to persist. All you have to do is keep going and eventually you’ll get there.

You don’t have to be gifted with mental or physical attributes. Sure, those will help you get there faster but all you truly have to do to reach your target is to persist.

Make one more phone call. Write one more proposal. Knock on one more door. All you need to do is keep going until you get your meal.

“it is not given to me to know how many steps are necessary in order to reach my goal. Failure I may still encounter at the thousandth step, yet success hides behind the next bend in the road.”

Og Mandingo

Use the simplest tool

The hunter, seeing the dispirited antelope lying on its side will then use nothing more than a sharpened stick to pierce its neck and put it out of its misery.

We often get caught up in using the latest technological tool. It’s easy to fall prey to spending a fortune in time and money to get the so-called best tool for the job.

The best tool is what’s available to you. The best tool provides the most significant benefit at the lowest cost.

Generally, unless the new technology will cost less and make your life easier, it’s not an advancement.

How many people upgrade their phones every year just so that they can make phone calls, send messages, browse the web and perhaps take a few selfies as they did with last year’s model but only at twice the cost?

The best tools cost the least, need little to no training, and improve your profitability. If it doesn’t pass this test, then perhaps you should pass on the tool.

The point of business, after all, is to turn a profit, not buy cool toys.

Further Reading

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandingo

Good Strategy Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt