In the world of business, will you run, hide, fight or simply prosper?

By Dr David Cliff, Managing Director of Gedanken.


People love simplicity.

It’s what makes our lives so straightforward and predictable.

In a world of overload – where we are bombarded from all sides by huge volumes of information – the principle of simplicity allows us to create the necessary order to convert a tidal wave of data into processable chunks.

That’s great in a technological-based society and can, to some extent, prevent such an overload developing into total burnout.

However, being informed by constant “edited highlights” does lead to a lack of perception of a subject’s depth and sophistication.

The old adage “know something about everything, everything about something” is a sensible philosophy in these modern times. We must learn to value depth as much as breadth.

I share this view, as the two concepts that most frequently feature in business thinking are those of survival and prosperity. These principles may be incredibly simple but have hidden depth.

It’s a little like the game of chess. It’s easy to learn how the pieces move in a matter of minutes but a full appreciation of the art and strategy of the game can take a lifetime to master.

A business develops from the mind-set of its creator and relates to whether that person’s instinct is for survival or to improve their quality of life.

‘Survival’ based organisations are very primal. They are often run from the limbic system – a complex network of nerves and networks – in the brain of the business founder rather than from the boardroom.

Quite simply, you run, fight, hide, or ultimately capitulate.

These crude programs are the rapid problem-solving faculties that allow individuals to make do and mend with what’s around them in ways that optimise survival.

In primitive times, this was frequently appropriate. There was no room to intellectualise when being charged by an animal or attacked by a neighbouring tribe. Running and fighting with a bit of problem solving included made complete sense.

The problem arises in the modern world where physical survival is pretty much assured and one of the greatest risks to life is crossing the road.

Nonetheless ‘fight or flight’ thinking remains and is directed to perceived risks in the social world, rather than actual risks in the physical world

Companies use the typical survivalist approach of ‘living to fight another day’ and their leadership prowess is celebrated by tales of how they “kept the wolf from the door”, “pulled another rabbit from the hat” and experienced a “close shave”.

The difficulty with such survivalist thinking is how so many companies maintain unnecessarily low aspirations and surmount serial crises by relying on such approaches.

These crises could have been avoided in many cases – but survival thinking does not plan, it only reacts. There are many businesses which take the same approach, shunning proactive change and only adapting when survival is threatened.

The flipside is the ‘prosperity’ mind-set, when surviving is not good enough. Such people would rather abandon the entrepreneurial goal for a decent well-paid job which secures a quality-of-life – rather than having to constantly eke out a living using survivalist approaches.

Prosperity thinkers look at extremely well-formed outcomes across the short, medium and long-term. Prosperity must be crafted and relies on the considered, thoughtful, reiterative processes of the higher thinking structures of the brain.

For prosperity mind-sets, the goals of the organisation are less fiscal than cultural, and socially based. Cash flow, attention to finance, horizon scanning for potential risk cannot be ignored but it is not the primary activity.

Prosperity thinkers often involve themselves in reflective activities, including coaching and self-development.  The corporate and social responsibility policies are often well developed, thoughtful, non-doctrinaire and have true impact in the world rather than the rhetorical approaches that “tick the box” for survivalists.

This includes an element of generosity, usefully contributing to employees’ lives, communities and society as a whole.

For so many however, the move from survival to prosperity thinking is a Rubicon that is difficult to cross and requires a level of self-reflection, planning, thoughtfulness and humanity that must transcend the practices of the most successful companies for whom survival thinking remains carefully masked.

Savvy companies and their leaders know that for them, prosperity thinking is a true no-brainer. But to get there requires deep thought, reflection, compassion and notions of self, others and society at large that survivalists rarely practice.



Dr David Cliff was named Lead Ambassador for Mentoring and Lead Ambassador for Business Crime by the Institute of Directors North East, and was awarded Mentor of the Year at the 2017 Entrepreneur’s Forum Awards. Dr Cliff is an expert coach and mentor with over 35 years of management and personal development experience.


He founded Gedanken, a leading edge executive and business-coaching organisation, providing businesses and individuals with the thought processes and strategies for personal and professional advancement.


Gedanken works with dozens of companies and individuals across the North East, and he and his colleagues have personally supported thousands of people. The coaching Gedanken provides helps business leaders and their team members to find a clearer direction and purpose, and to improve performance; which often results in a qualitatively better experience of life.