Last night, our family sat down for family movie night and watched, My Octopus Teacher. This documentary tells the story of Craig Foster, a filmmaker in South Africa, who forges a friendship with an octopus living in the underwater kelp forest. Not only is this documentary visually stunning, it showcases the beautiful relationship we can have with the natural world and offers up powerful lesson from the wild.

As I watched this unlikely friendship form between human and cephalopod, I couldn’t help but think about the way octopus adapt, survive, and thrive in their environments and what we can learn as business owners.

These highly intelligent, fluid creatures are strong, efficient, and adaptable. They pay attention to the world around them and do what’s necessary to meet their needs. According to National Geographic, octopus (cephalopod) have soft, almost fluid-like bodies that allow them to fit in tiny nooks and crannies. Their arms are lined with hundreds of suckers, and they move and operate independently, allowing them to manipulate objects and maneuver around the sea with ease. And perhaps most interesting of all, they rapidly adapt to their surroundings, using camouflage, evasion, and deception techniques that keep them alive for their relatively short lives.

There is so much more than can be said about octopuses, and the more I read, the more fascinated I become. But rather than go on about that, let me offer four lessons we can take away from octopuses.

Adaptability in complex, ever changing environments

The ocean, like our modern work environment, is complex and dynamic. In order to survive and thrive, octopuses are constantly exploring with their arms. They change size, color, and shape to fit, survive, and thrive in their environment, even adapting and camouflaging themselves using different textures, patterns, and colors.

Much like the octopus, we have to be willing to morph and adapt to our ever-changing environment. This can look like managing fire drills and pop up events, but it also means paying attention to trends and allowing your business to be responsive to it.

As owners, we have to stay on top of our environment and be willing to adapt, change, and grow with it, which means we can’t stick our head in the sand and ignore the world around us. If we’ve learned anything from COVID, it’s that those businesses that are willing to change with the times are the ones that survive.

Lesson: We must always be interacting, paying attention, and adapting if we want to grow.

Observe and learn from others

Through social media and the internet, we are constantly being confronted with information about other businesses, how they’re seemingly doing, and what works and doesn’t. In many posts, we’ve talked about the importance of running your own race and not getting sucked into comparisonitis, and I want to reiterate the importance of that here.

With that said, we, like the octopus, can observe the world around us, take in powerful lessons learned by watching other business owners. We can leverage their successes and failures and learn how to avoid pitfalls in our own businesses. We can pull from industries that are different from our own and put new ideas into practice.

Lesson: Observe. Test. Learn. Repeat.

Leveraging all our tools

Of all the things that struck me from this documentary and my quick research on octopuses, it was their use of their whole body and tools as a survival mechanism. These highly intelligent creatures use everything at their disposal to accomplish tasks, evade threats, and hunt.

We have loads tools at our disposal that allow us to protect the business (legal and financial tools), run the business (operational tools), and grow the business (marketing tools). We have the ability to determine the best tools by observing, learning, and trying new tools and bringing our whole self to the tasks.

Lesson: Know what you bring to the table, where you stand from a business health perspective, what tools are available to you, and ask for help when needed.

Bringing our whole self to the business

Octopuses have three hearts, and as I thought about this, it made me think of our mind, body, spirit connection. In order to thrive as a business owner, you have to bring your whole self to the business. This means being in full alignment with yourself, understanding and operating with your values, caring well for your mental and physical health, showing up authentically, and learning to find your right blend of work and life.

Lesson: Know yourself and be fully engaged.

I could talk about other lessons, but I’ll stop here and leave you with this question:

How can you be more like an octopus in your business?

And if you haven’t watched this documentary, jump on it!


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