Six lessons for business leaders from Jane Goodall

Courtesy of World Bank Photo Collection/Flickr
Courtesy of World Bank Photo Collection/Flickr

Jane Goodall is most famous for her 45-year study of chimpanzees, but the primatologist has plenty of business savvy as the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, an international wildlife conservation organization, and a youth program with more than 150,000 members in more than 130 countries. Goodall recalled her time in Africa and her nonprofit work at an event Wednesday night at Mizzou Arena in Columbia. Here are six pieces of advice from Goodall that are  applicable in primatology and business:

Degrees aren’t everything

Goodall said she was worried that moving from London to Africa without a college degree — she only had secretarial training — would hinder her ability to find a job studying animals. But it was her lack of a degree that inspired paleontologist Louis Leaky to send her to Tanzania in 1960 to study chimpanzees. “That was in my favor,” Goodall said of her secretarial training. “He didn’t want somebody who had been brainwashed by the very reductionist thinking of the animal behavior people of the time.” Goodall eventually earned a doctorate from Cambridge, but her thesis was centered on her early observation in the field.

Go with your gut

Early in her research, Goodall said older scientists didn’t approve of her methods. She gave the chimps names, and described their actions and emotions. Most scientists were convinced her approach was too anthropomorphic. But Goodall said she always knew animals had emotions: she saw them in her childhood dog, Rusty. She later met a researcher who taught her how to convey her ideas using more scientific language.

Know when to take risks

Goodall’s animal behavior studies were radical. Scientists at the time were reluctant to recognize the many similarities between chimpanzees and humans. Her findings revolutionized primatology and gave her more to study. “When you start daring to think in ways that have not yet been previously done, then you have a whole new field ahead of you that is largely unexplored,” Goodall said. “It’s a really fascinating and exciting world.”

Embrace globalization

Seeing poverty in Africa inspired Goodall to begin speaking internationally about environmentalism and the lingering effects of colonialism on the continent. “We’re all interconnected in this world today,” Goodall said. “It’s time to join hands around the world and start putting things right.” Developed countries have a responsibility to support businesses and individuals in the developing world, and businesses worldwide need to prioritize environmentally-conscious practices, she said.

There’s always more to learn

Students often come to Goodall convinced that she’s learned everything there is to know about chimpanzees, but she’s quick to tell them otherwise. “We are still learning about chimpanzee behavior after 55 years in that one place,” Goodall said of Tanzania. Less than half of chimpanzees elsewhere in Africa have ever been studied. At 80, Goodall says her own learning is far from done.

Seek inspiration everywhere

Goodall spoke at length on the world’s ongoing issues with climate change, poaching and poverty. But she is inspired by people she works with and meets in her travels. “We have such incredible potential,” Goodall said. “That is the hope for the future.”


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