Dolphins teach us strategic thinking

Dudley Lynch's 1988 book: The Strategy of the Dolphin reveals the ways dolphins can team up to kill a shark. It shows us that the more ferocious predator can be beat by a superior strategy. Here's some of the insights I've used from that book when formulating strategies and teaching strategic thinking:

A shark can kill a dolphin just like most other sea creatures that it feeds upon. A shark has a strength that diminishes the threat of most creatures of equal size: its sharp teeth and powerful jaw. Most any creature will become a shark’s prey if it goes “head to head” the shark’s formidable resource.

Dolphins can kill a shark. To do so, they think and act strategically. They do not go “head to head” to conquer the it by getting in the shark's face. They use the fact that the shark’s greatest strength is also its weakness. The dolphins lack of ferocious jaws of sharp teeth also proves how an apparent shortcoming can function as a strategic advantage.

Several dolphins gather around the shark, facing it. They begin chirping to confuse and distract the shark from a single focus. One dolphin then swims circles around the shark, never stopping in front of the teeth. When the timing is right, the dolphin stops and rams the unguarded flank of the shark. After several successful flank attacks, the internal hemorrhaging sinks the shark to the bottom of the sea.

Dolphins are great examples of how to think strategically:
  • They see an opportunity where others (carp) only see a threat.
  • They realize the game is won by superior thinking, not by physical prowess.
  • They use timing to their own advantage instead of letting the rival dictate the tempo.
  • They avoid direct confrontations that pit strengths against strengths
  • They take advantage (leverage) the way the rival’s strength is a weakness
  • They utilize an indirect approach which flank attacks at opportune moments.
  • They utilize deception, confusion and distraction to give themselves more opportunities.
  • They form alliances with others to create an unmanageable situation for the rival.

Simultaneously, dolphins teach us how a “shark mentality” is not strategic:
  • Sharks are tactically fixated on a single objective, losing sight of the mission, winning battles but not the war
  • Sharks function with tunnel vision or blinders that miss the big picture
  • Sharks are overly confident in their successes and strengths
  • Sharks are relying on their strengths rather than addressing their weaknesses, unguarded flanks, flawed strategy, vulnerability to deceptions
  • Sharks use intimidation tactics that effective strategists see through and use to their own advantage
In other words, when faced with threats from rivals, things are not as they appear. Getting a good read on imposing, dangerous or threatening situations calls for some serious strategic thinking.


  1. Hello Tom,

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  2. Hi Nicole
    When a bad day turns into a bad week, that's a strategy for having a bad week. When a bad week does NOT turn into a bad month, that's a strategy for limiting how long the bad days last. There's something about weekends for you that puts an end to bad week. So you could declare the next day after a bad day a weekend day, if that works for you. You could also figure out what it is about weekends that break up the string of bad days, and simply do that on a week day. Any of those are strategies for changing from unmotivated to motivated or from bad days to good days. I hope this helps you in some way.