Book Review: 'Surviving the Serengeti: 7 Skills To Master Business and Life' by Stefan Swanepoel
Surviving the Serengeti: 7 Skills To Master Business and Life Stefan Swanepoel John Wiley & Sons (2011)
A parable for success that sometimes requires a perilous journey of self-discovery
Fables may well be among the earliest forms of storytelling and remain popular among several business thinkers, notably Stephen Denning and Patrick Lencione. Personally, I have little interest in locating cheese or coping with melting icebergs but I always enjoy a tale well-told and that is what Stefan Swanepoel offers in this slim volume. Its protagonist is Sean Spencer, a corporate executive from Los Angeles. He and his wife Ashley are joined by Dave and Mary Johnson from Montana, Anthony and Cecilia Cruz, and Zachariah Makena whom Spencer knew 30 years ago and hasn’t seen since, until now. They begin an African safari led by their guide Raymond. Plot developments are best revealed within the narrative. My focus now is on what I admire most about the material provided.
First, as indicated earlier, Swanepoel is a skillful raconteur. He sets the scene, introduces the characters, sets the plot in motion, and uses both dialog and incidents to illustrate what he hopes his fable will affirm: Everyone can survive his her own personal Serengeti, no matter the challenges. No journey is ever too long. Nothing is impossible.”
Also, I think the seven survival skills “to master business and life” are appropriate to the context within which he examines them, the plains of the Serengeti, and to the animals that exemplify those skills: the wildebeest (“Endurance is the steadfast capacity to hold on for one more day.”), the lion (“Strategy is the road map you need to define and achieve your goals.”), the crocodile (“An enterprising person explores all options and boldly seizes every opportunity.”), the cheetah (“Efficiency is the optimization of all resources to achieve the best results.”), the giraffe (“Grace is more than style and finesse, it’s doing the right thing.”), the mongoose (“Taking calculated risks is an essential part of every journey.”), and the elephant (e.g. (“Effective communication is the art of successfully delivering your message.”). The wildlife certainly provide excellent role models.
Finally, Swanpoel is convinced (and I agree) that life and work lessons can be learned from various animals such as those who appear in this fable but that the value of those lessons depends almost entirely on the extent to which those lessons are then applied. Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton have identified two gaps, “Knowing-Doing” and “Doing-Knowing.” It remains for each reader to determine, first, which needs are most urgently needed and then resolve to master them.
I presume to suggest that the development process be guided and informed by the results of research that Anders Ericsson and his associates at Florida State have conducted for almost 20 years. In brief, peak performance requires about 10,000 hours of “deep” and “deliberate” practice under the strict supervision by a master teacher.
In my opinion, Stefan Swanepoel hopes this book will serve both as a mirror to reflect current realities and as a window to suggest possibilities yet to be realized. I am among those who need both so I thank him for what I have learned from his book and for what (I hope) his book will help to make possible in months and years to come.
Editor's note: This review was written by Robert Morris and has been published with his permission.Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.