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To Catch a Wild Pig - A Parable About Society That Offers Valuable Lessons for Leaders

A friend of mine sent me a wonderful piece called "Catching the Wild Pig".  For those of you who have never heard this parable (and I hadn’t until now), here it is:

A chemistry professor at a large college had some exchange students in the class. One day while the class was in the lab the Professor noticed one young man (exchange student) who kept rubbing his back, and stretching as if his back hurt. The professor asked the young man what was the matter. The student told him he had a bullet lodged in his back. He had been shot while fighting communists in his native country who were trying to overthrow his country's government and install a new communist government.

In the midst of his story he looked at the professor and asked a strange question. He asked, 'Do you know how to catch wild pigs?' The professor thought it was a joke and asked for the punch line. The young man said this was no joke. 'You catch wild pigs by finding a suitable place in the woods and putting corn on the ground. The pigs find it and begin to come every day to eat the free corn. When they are used to coming every day, you put a fence down one side of the place where they are used to coming. When they get used to the fence, they begin to eat the corn again and you put up another side of the fence. They get used to that and start to eat again.

You continue until you have all four sides of the fence up with a gate in the last side. The pigs, who are used to the free corn, start to come through the gate to eat; you slam the gate on them and catch the whole herd. Suddenly the wild pigs have lost their freedom. They run around and around inside the fence, but they are caught.

Soon they go back to eating the free corn. They are so used to it that they have forgotten how to forage in the woods for themselves, so they accept their captivity.

The young man then told the professor that is exactly what he sees happening to America. The government keeps pushing us toward socialism and keeps spreading the free corn out in the form of programs such as supplemental income, tax credit for unearned income, tobacco subsidies, dairy subsidies, payments not to plant crops (CRP), welfare, medicine, drugs, etc. While we continually lose our freedoms — just a little at a time.   

I found this an extremely fascinating and interesting parable and one I can totally endorse. For we must guard carefully not to fall into the trap of being so dependent on the government that we lose our sense of responsibility for our live and even worse, the very spark of life. 

Yet, this also brings me to the recognition that we are caught in a rather interesting dilemma are we not.  While I agree with the "trap" of the wild pig and the problems that presents, we are also experiencing what happens when you let the pigs (pun intended) run wild (the effect of too much de-regulation for example) and the effects it has on our society overall. – Anyone enjoying the financial crisis we are in? So the real question, (and I believe the true answer) lies in how do we find the right balance. 

The trouble we have in our political system is we keep running back and forth between taming the wild pigs and letting them run wild.  Wildness is good for creativity, entrepreneurialism, and the like.  You want the free flow of energy to stimulate new innovation.  And yet when you have unbounded flow of energy you have chaos, which then has to correct itself.  As we learn to work with the powerful flow of societal energies, I believe we can learn to modulate the unbounded flow of energy while not reaching the point of constraining it to where we are limiting its flow. 

When are we ever going to get a leader that understands the need for balance and stop with the rhetoric of polar opposite making one side wrong and the other right (and I don’t care which side we are talking about). Is it not time for us to have true leadership in this country, and in our companies.  Leadership that can connect deeply with the soul of the entity (be it our country or our companies) and guide the energy that flows from there in a balanced way so that we are contributing effectively to our society and our planet?

Norman Wolife, President/CEO, Quantum Leaders, Inc

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  • Jeronimo

    Charles, it is not just "in communist besieged countries". The same tactic is used everywhere in the world, including the US. Think lobster traps, baited cages; fishermen who drop a lot of bait in one place, after carefully laying a net down first... And it works. All those who live on Wellfare for years - although they are perfectly capable of providing for themselves, are proof that humans are good at swallowing a baited hook, too. Of course, a single trap cannot catch the entire species it was built for but, more often than not, a properly set trap catches as many individuals as it can hold. If you think it cannot happen to you, you are probably overestimating yourself and / or underestimating those who are setting the trap.
    We may not be doomed at a global level, but at community level we tend to fail to learn from other communities' past experience, therefore we are prone to repeat their mistakes.

  • Woodcutterron

    For the record, since folks have decided to question the parable rather than what it's trying to illuminate, The tactic for catching wild pigs is real, based on reality, and it still a rather common tactic today, and not just for pigs. I use it to retrain horses who have been rendered hard to catch on pasture by well meaning, but naive horse owners.

    As for the Authors belief we can strike a balance, hey, I hope we will one day, and will readily admit it is possible . . . . but unlikely. To use an medaphor . . .which will of course confuse some folks as much as parables and analogies do . . .  We have never struck a balance. It will ALWAYS be a pendulum. We swing "too far" in one direction, then we swing back too far in the other direction. Our Founding Fathers CLEARLY understood this, and actually did as good a job as any group of men in history at trying to find the elusive balance.

    But as all things "man" . . .the devil is in the details. The reality is that Greed and self-interest are part of mankind, and there will always people who will "in the name of balance" try to manipulate an advantage for themselves. I don't believe this will ever stop. Keep in mind that Socialism could technically work, but mankind, his emotions, desires, shortcomings, etc. will always be a factor. We will always have to fight for liberty, and Liberty is in fact the root goal.

    Oddly, few folks, on either side of the issue, ever really discuss "liberty" in any real depth. The conundrum is, that with liberty, there will always be folks who want "more liberty" than others, and will be more than willing to deny another liberty for the sake of their own "liberty. Liberty is the goal, but it's also the impossible hurdle, as by it's very nature it allows some to seek it at the expense of others.  So . . .we are pretty much doomed to "the Pendulum."   Understanding this is really our best chance of ever finding something close to a balance, but understand we will never fully achieve it.

  • Paul Gagnon

    I don't agree with Wolife with his "Striking a balance", the reality is that any regulation is obsolete when it's published, but much like DNA, we never strip these regulations, in fact the right thing to do is to minimize regulations, but maximize penalty for abuse. Should we let the government regulate to whom to issue credit, and what terms (as Obama is doing now)?, or should we simply enact very stern penalties for abusing lending practices?
    i.e. why provide a loan to people if they have not shown credit worthiness? If a lender targets the poor or underprivileged, then when caught, they should be sent to jail, their assets should be seized, and distributed back to those abused...
    Regulations accumulate and inevitably rules WILL favor the lobbyist who has a politician in his pocket! Reasonable Deregulation with significant penalties will yield greater deterrence and empower everyman to a greater extent; all while minimizing lobbyist perversion of our freedoms... Think about it!

    "The Backdoor to Socialism has been mapped, the grain is placed, it's just a matter of time unless we reverse the trend.

    - Social Message from PG

  • Jeffrey Krasney

    Unlike the wild pig analogy; rationality within the business context is often saddled with ambiguity and paradox. What may work and why is often unforeseen and nothing short of extraordinary. Additionally, as Emerson’s former CEO Charles Knight once expressed, “You need the ability to fail. You cannot innovate unless you are willing to make mistakes.” There is no limit on raw, innovative ideas; that is, those individuals who choose to stick with an idea and do succeed are celebrated. Legend has it that William Hewlett once visited the HP plant in Palo Alto on an early Saturday afternoon. Hewlett found the door locked and immediately went to maintenance, grabbed a bolt cutter, and cut the padlock off the door. He left a note that was found on Monday morning expressing, “Don’t ever lock this door again. Thanks, Bill.”

    Nevertheless, similar to the wild pig analogy, success of business is built upon numbers. Thus, I am often reminded of the test of folly of guessing how many marbles are in a jar; and then asking a group of individuals to guess the number of marbles within the jar. More often than not, the guesses are widely dispersed. Nevertheless, more often than not, the average of all the estimates will be far closer to the correct number of marbles than most of the individual guesses. Such an effect one prominent writer, James Surowiecki writes in his book, “The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations,” applies to many individuals – that is, the collective sense or “the wisdom of crowds,” typically, dismisses those responses that are off the chart; from both the left and right tail perspective.

    To understand success and why accomplishments do take place (whether in the wild or within various boardrooms) at times is impossible to predict with certainty – although boundless energy and an abundance of enthusiasm do help (again, the wild pig analogy is helpful). As Niels Bohr, once commented in the Economist (03/01/2003), “Predictions are hard, especially about the future.”

  • Norman Wolfe

    Your comment reminds me of the problem with metaphors and parables - they can only go so far.

    The real message intended for this blog post is taht no matter which side of a position one is on, there is always the other side to be considered.

    Free market economy is overall the right thing as it frees the energy of creation to flourish. But if uncontrolled it has to potential to run wild and undirected.

    Eventually the system will balance itself out, but wouldn't it be better to set balance as an objective all along. So anytime a free flow of energy is getting carried away (such as we have seen over the last two bubbles) proper regulation is in order. Similiarly anytime we see over-regulation and an attempt to control the flow of energy (such as in state run enterprises), de-regulation is in order.

    The chalange is to strike a real balance in the system.

    Here is a closing metaphor (with all the limitations metaphors have).

    When you shoot a rocket to the moon it is never on course 100%. Rather it is making a number of course adjustments along the way. The goal is to not let it get too far off course so the corrections do not need to be severe or extreme.

    It is always about finding balance.

  • Charles

    Is that really how they catch wild pigs in communist besieged countries? Thank you for identifying this as a parable, not a true story. Nonetheless, the problem with this story, like its cousin, the "slowly boiled frog" story, is that it bears no connection to reality. Nobody- not even if they've been shot in the back by a communist- actually catches pigs that way, and real frogs actually will try to escape gradually heated water long before they boil. It's a good thing, too; if we were like these fictional animals, we would be doomed to whatever fate our manipulators devised, as long as they moved slowly enough. We are, not surprisingly, more like real animals.