Posted: June 01, 2009

Small biz: Redemption for Wile E. Coyote

What do coyotes have in common with salespeople?

Mike Taylor

Early last month a co-worker and I watched with fascination from my third-floor office window as a coyote ambled across our business park in the middle of the Denver Tech Center. Stopping at the edge of Greenwood Plaza Boulevard, the coyote waited for a lull in traffic, then loped across the four-lane road.

Fishing in my desk drawer for my camcorder, I bolted down three flights of stairs, dashed outside and across the street. From about 75 feet away, I zoomed in as the coyote chewed some food under a picnic table. Maybe this was the animal’s usual early afternoon routine. After a minute or so it made its way back across the street and disappeared into some shrubbery.

Marlin Perkins would have been proud.

Spotting a coyote in the middle a business park seemed somehow fitting, too, considering my week had begun at a sales seminar featuring Joel Weldon, who spoke on “How to thrive with Coyote Power.”

“Yes, coyotes are wild predators and do things that are negative,” Weldon told the crowd of about 500. “Yet overall, the coyote is still amazing in its ability to get out of the box, be adaptable, work as a team with other animals and exhibit awesome courage.”

Salespeople have been especially challenged by the recession. If there are lessons to be gained from the coyote, so be it.

Nobody would be more pleased about this than Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus at the University of Colorado. Bekoff, 63, grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., but has been in Colorado for 35 years. He’s spent his professional life studying the coyote and more broadly “social carnivores” of the canine family.

Weldon, the seminar speaker, read about Bekoff’s coyote studies about a decade ago and worked lessons of the animal into his sales seminars. For example, Weldon says a coyote will put aside differences and team with a badger, which is adept at harassing prairie dogs out of their den but not always able to capture the prey. So a coyote will wait at a far hole and nab the prairie dog when it emerges from the alternate exit, then split the take with the badger, Weldon said.
I’ll take his word for it.

Weldon also cited the coyote’s courage, pointing out that it will chew off its own leg to escape from a trap. (Also the origin of the term “coyote ugly,” but that’s a story for another time.)

Bekoff, in addition to authoring numerous papers on “social carnivores,” co-wrote with Jessica Pierce the book, “Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals,” published just last month.

I got off the phone after talking about coyotes with Bekoff, and then I thought, “Wait a minute. Social carnivores? Coyotes will eat anything. They’re omnivores, aren’t they? Puzzled, I e-mailed Bekoff.

“Yes, coyotes are considered social carnivores even though they have a catholic diet,” he wrote back.

Of course, sometimes coyotes conflict with humans and their domestic pets, like the incident last month in which a woman’s Chihuahua was snatched by a coyote on a walking path near West Belleview Avenue and South Santa Fe Drive in Englewood.

Bekoff acknowledges the animal-human conflicts, but he is encouraged to see the animal’s positive qualities brought to light, too.

“Social carnivores are better models than primates for understanding human behavior,” he said. “Coyotes that don’t play fair usually get thrown out of their group or they leave their group. And they don’t do as well as the animals that do play fair.”

“What would they do that would be considered unfair?” I asked. “Embezzle another coyote’s food?”
Not quite. “Like inviting another animal to play or hang out amicably and then try to mate with them or dominate them,” he said.

I asked whether the numerous scandals in business and finance perhaps have prompted people to look beyond humans in search of positive role models.

“Survival of the fittest, the competitive mentality, is really important in animal behavior,” he said. “But the other side of the equation is that competition and dominance are balanced by cooperation, compassion, empathy. The model really works.
“Acting like an animal can be really a compliment, if you will.”

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Mike Taylor is the managing editor of ColoradoBiz. He writes about small-business money issues and how startups are launched. Email him at mtaylor@cobizmag.com.

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