Fat Sheep and Scrawny Wolves

Occasionally you come across an analogy that seems a bit offensive but you don't have enough experience to really make a full judgment on it to really comment on it. The wolf and sheep analogy is one I've heard for years, often used to describe small business owners and entrepreneurs vs people working in big companies. Its always rubbed me the wrong way and I have a bit more experience now to smash it to pieces.

The way I've heard (and interpreted) the sheep and wolves analogy is that entrepreneurs are like wolves, smart, aggressive, independent and eat sheep. Sheep on the other hand are dumb, lazy and just follow where the herd goes and are eaten (taken advantage) by wolves. I've worked at biggish companies and also co-founded two companies and seen the opposite to be true on many occasions. The thing that makes the analogy offensive is that it's an intrinsic trait. You're either a wolf or a sheep, a sheep can't learn to be smarter or more resourceful and you'll never tame or get a wolf to follow anything but his own nose. This implies that regardless of why you may be at a big company you're automatically labeled a following sheep and just because you started your own company you're a smart wolf.

There's plenty of people that have jumped on the start up bandwagon, go to all the start up happy hours, sit in the coffee shops discussing their big idea and label themselves entrepreneurs even though they've done very little or nothing. Contrast that with some people in big companies that are brilliantly smart, resourceful and are at the backbone of some of the biggest brands. Would companies like Apple even be where they are if the entire company was sheep with a few sheep herders to keep things moving along? You'd also expect every person that labeled themselves an entrepreneur to be doing awesome and that the success rate of small businesses and start ups would be way higher but they aren't.

That said I've met a fair share of smart business owners and the follower types at big companies, however it's not consistent enough to really make a strong case for this analogy. Usually the reasons people are at big companies vs starting their own companies has a lot to do with what they enjoy doing and to a lesser extent their aversion to risk and personal skill set. If somebody, for example, isn't really interested in business, marketing, customer satisfaction etc.. but really likes carpentry and building chairs, starting a carpentry business may not allow that person to do more carpentry and build more chairs. Their day may be consumed by taking care of finances, marketing etc. In that case working for a company that allows a person to really focus on what they love without worrying about much else is the perfect situation. That's not sheepish behavior but optimizing your happiness around what you love doing.

An extreme example would be Lionel Messi who plays for FC Barcelona (big company) vs a voluntary vagabond pan-handler ("entrepreneur"). Lionel Messi can focus on being the world's greatest soccer player and not worry about FC Barcelona's 10-year goals or profitability. The homeless pan-handler is 100% independent, with the freedom to choose his or her own path but living a relatively rough life. A fat sheep and a scrawny wolf. Both would probably say they are happy with their choice for different reasons. The one values independence over everything, the other enjoys the freedom to focus on one thing to an elite mastery without any distractions of other duties or tasks. Different Strokes for different folks.

In the end, these types of analogies say more about the person using them than anything else. From my personal experience, it's somebody trying to inflate their status when they have got little else to fall back on.