Lessons from an Infinitesimal Microbe

Be like the bacteria which killed these obnoxious aliens! (source)

If you've watched or read "The War of the Worlds" by H.G. Wells, you would have known that it wasn't a nuclear bomb, powerful phasers, or anti-matter guns which decimated the seemingly omnipotent aliens. Instead, what swung the odds in our favour were the microscopic bacteria which overcame the foreign invaders.

Indeed, there are lots to learn from the tiniest yet most insidious organisms on Earth. From plasmodiums to fungi to bacteria to viruses, these parasitic life forms are so hugely successful that they have spawned the multi trillion dollar global healthcare and medical industries.

Despite mankind's valiant efforts to fight and eradicate these numerous hidden enemies with the latest and greatest of science, medicine, engineering and even holistic healthcare, they appear to effortlessly turn the odds in their favour, re-emerging with newer and more virulent strains.

Are there business lessons that we can learn from these influential (and irritating) life forms? Let us consider the most potent (pun intended) of them all.

Spread Your Resources in the Right Places and Channels

A major reason for the massive spread of microbes is that they are omnipresent. Almost every habitable niche - air, land and sea - have these microscopic denizens (perhaps save for freezing cold or burning hot climates). Having said so, these pathogens are not stupid. While spreading themselves far and wide across different natural and man-made regions, they are selective in where they eventually land and seed themselves. Often, they employ the help of the right vectors of disease like mosquitoes (for malarial plasmodiums) for instance. An example is the heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) as shown below.


Likewise, one should explore various niches and platforms in business. Do not place all your eggs in one basket if you're uncertain about the viability of that venture. Instead, seek ways to ameliorate that risk by ensuring that your products and services are placed appropriately, and that your advertising/publicity messages are in the right channels. However, do ensure that these channels will work for you and study the environment well before investing and expanding.

Leverage on the Power of Crowds

Micro-organisms by their individual selves are extremely weak and fragile. However, their advantage lies in their abilities to multiply quickly and spread forth, both within their victims and when infecting a new vector. Their net effects of potent biotoxins and cellular transmutation (particularly for viruses) help them to enlarge and expand their colonies, occasionally eliciting such major damage that they end up killing their hosts.

In the business context, one should also spread one's network far and wide in the right media and channels. Like the microbes, find ways to "transmit" your message as far and wide as possible, from one person to the next. I guess everybody knows where the inspiration for the word "viral marketing" and "influence marketing" (from influenza or flu) comes from. :)

Harness External Resources

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about micro-organisms, particularly viruses, is their ability to use their host body's own genetic and cellular material to generate their own. If you study the life cycle of how viruses replicate, you will marvel (and perhaps shudder) at how they inject their own viral genetic material (called Ribonucleic Acid or RNA) into the host cells which result in their victim's cells becoming factories of new viruses.


While I'm not suggesting that businesses should be parasitical in nature, there is a grain of wisdom in leveraging on external help when expanding one's enterprise. Other than the more obvious capital that one can seek from investors or banks, one could also explore various forms of partnerships and alliances with kindred businesses. These can be suppliers, vendors, distributors, agencies or other channel partners. Of course, while the viral mode of expansion is often malignant, business partnerships should (theoretically) be benign and symbiotic in nature.

Fail Fast and Fail Cheap

Unlike anthropomorphic depictions of bacteria or viruses, most do not have familial connections or feelings. As you would have guessed, gazillions of microbes get exterminated each minute, be they through the body's own biochemical defences or the latest patented superdrug. Despite these losses, these virulent organisms are still around, with the fittest in the family surviving the attacks and passing on ever stronger genes to the next generation of germs.

In a similar fashion, do not hesitate to let your most pathetic products or services die a natural death. Cut losses when you see that a fabulous new item on the menu is no longer fabulous, the latest technological invention appear to be flailing, or when a popular outlet becomes deserted. Sentimentality doesn't get you anywhere when pitted against the scourge of a hypercompetitive marketplace.

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