Bumble Bees and Butterfly Nets: A Financial Analogy

bumble bee picThe other day I was speaking with a client when what I thought was a small bird flew into the room. At closer inspection I realized it was the largest bumble bee I’d ever seen in my life. My client and I had been speaking about the new revenue stream she was adding to her business and how it was a little overwhelming when she considered all the details that had to be looked after in order to streamline her operations to make the whole business ‘fly’.

The bee reminded me of a story I’d heard about how bumble bees apparently aren’t supposed to be able to fly. Apparently in the 1930’s a story was circulated stating that according to the accepted theory of the day, bumblebees didn’t generate enough lift to fly. The story goes, that some scientific-type person did some calculations and claimed that it was aerodynamically impossible for bumble bees to fly. Obviously no one bothered to tell this to the bumble bee that has been happily flying around pollinating plants its whole life.

According to one website I looked at to make sure I had my bee facts straight, bees’ wings are abnormally small relative to their bodies and someone had made a faulty analogy between bumble bees and conventional aircraft. If an airplane were built the same way as a bumble bee, it would never get off the ground. But bees aren’t like airplanes, they’re like helicopters. Their wings work on the same principle as helicopter blades… A moving airfoil, whether it’s a helicopter blade or a bee wing, generates a lot more lift than a stationary one. The real challenge with bees wasn’t figuring out the aerodynamics but the mechanics: specifically, how bees can move their wings so fast-roughly 200 beats per second, which is 10 or 20 times the firing rate of the nervous system. The trick apparently is that the bee’s wing muscles don’t expand and contract so much as vibrate, like a rubber band. A nerve impulse comes along and twangs the muscle, much as you might pluck a guitar string, and it vibrates the wing up and down a few times until the next impulse comes along. (http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1076/is-it-aerodynamically-impossible-for-bumblebees-to-fly August 12, 2013)

The point to all the bee wing facts is that as I was discussing the financial implications of the new business model with my client, the giant bumble bee flew into our skylight and was buzzing around trying to reach for the sky. Every attempt to fly through to freedom got him no closer to his destination and was in fact just wearing him out. If I left him long enough I’m quite certain I’d have found him on the floor sometime the next day.

He was such an unusually large bee that I decided his mission could use a little help. I put my client on hold and went to retrieve a butterfly net we keep on hand for various household bug catching adventures. With one swoop, I scooped up the bee and let him outside where he could fly to freedom and carry on his worthwhile business of pollinating plants.

The bumble bee story provides a great analogy for financial situations. The first is in how the bumble bee fly’s in the first place: if you look at its physical circumstances many people could easily justify telling the bee that his situation was hopeless; that he should give up on the idea of flying and to be content crawling around the ground like other insects such as ants or spiders. Happily for the bee, it took a different approach and modified its situation so it could carry on with the work it wanted to and was supposed to do.

The second situation of getting stuck in the skylight could have been catastrophic for this bee because he was so focused on the big picture that he forgot a couple critical steps. These steps are also critical financial steps. One is that there might be more ways to reach for the sky, than there first appears. Opportunities of a lifetime come around everyday when you start to become aware of them. And just because you have been successful overcoming obstacles in the past doesn’t mean you’re always going to be better off self-sufficient. Another is that sometimes you can benefit from an outside source to provide you some direction. Too often with finance people are so afraid to share their situation with others that they become self-centered and will continue to beat their head against the ‘skylight’ thinking the next attempt will provide them with their freedom. There is a lot to be said for stopping, waiting, asking, and sharing. I was able to assist the bumble bee because he finally stopped and rested on the wall near the edge of the skylight. I saw his plight, and was happy to help him. Plus, I’m sure he was happy I came along so the situation created a win / win for both of us!

When you’re looking for financial results and finding yourself up against the same closed window all the time, perhaps the best thing is to consider the bumble bee and shift your perspective, slow down and wait for your personal version of the ‘butterfly net’.

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