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Ever Dissect a Rat? It Might Be Time to Dissect Your Company

No lab coat or goggles needed but the same principles apply

Photo by Alexandr Gusev on Unsplash

I majored in biology as an undergrad and loved it. Biology, the study of life, intrigued me so much I became a laboratory assistant at my local community college for a couple of years. I set up lab work for students, helped student nurses navigate the difficulties of anatomy (yeah, not what you’re thinkin’), and provided rats and frogs for dissection. (You’re about to learn more about lab rats than you ever wanted to know.)

The rats we used were large and white, the albino laboratory form of the genus and species Rattus norvegicus. They had long incisors that grew even longer unless we gave them wood, rat pellets and toys to chew.

I raised the rats so we would have an adequate rat population for study. (Yes, it involved dissection; that’s the way it was back then, so no animal cruelty comments, please. I get it, and I’m thankful we have virtual capabilities now.) But back then, my job was my job and it was primarily to provide rats for the biology lab work.

Thankfully, rats multiply like rabbits. Rat pregnancies usually last between 21–23 days; you can usually tell right away when they’re pregnant, as female rats start building nests. Rats give birth to litters of 10–15 pups. You have to watch the mothers carefully to ensure they take care of the pups, and you have to keep the mother fed well so she doesn’t, um, pursue alternate food sources.

Plus, you need to separate males and females soon or the cycle starts again — rapid recovery! Males reach sexual maturity at 70 days; females at 90 days.

The average rat can live up to two years. They are sensitive, friendly, communal creatures. At one time, I had more than 60 mice in various cages. It was my job to change their cages twice per week, minimum. (No one likes a dirty bathroom, right?)

I kept them fed and watered. Though I wasn’t required to do so, I played Mozart for my rats. They preferred “Eine kleine Nachtmusik“ and “String Quartet №5 in D Major.“ (They weren’t big fans of the “Jupiter“ symphony, for some reason.)

Overall, they were mellow creatures. I used to pick them up and put them in the pockets of my lab coat (when they were younger and smaller). I’d walk around campus with rats peeking out of my pockets; they seemed happy to get out in the fresh air. To be sure, it freaked some people out entirely, but others thought it was cute. (Yeah, I admit it, they were good conversation starters).

None of them ever bit me. They were kind of like my pets. But I knew better than to name them and get attached to them, because they were bred for a purpose, and that purpose was in the biology lab. There they would be euthanized and dissected to teach nursing students about comparative anatomy.

However, I have to admit, seeing them being dissected stung a bit for me as I got attached to many of them, whether I wanted to or not. I’m very sentimental about my animals. I’m happy to say that today, with the advancements in software and augmented reality, no rats have to die for this; it can all be done virtually.

To add to the dynamics back then, some students were quite squeamish about cutting open a rat — or a frog — or anything. Those students (even way back in the Dark Ages, when I was young) were allowed to look at diagrams and use teaching aids with celluloid pages that would overlap the various systems (nervous system, digestive system, circulatory system, etc.).

It was “the next best thing to being there,” I suppose. But it didn’t change my job much, which was to get the rats ready, to have them in a position to be dissected by the students. Part of that job was also to provide the necessary tools for dissection — scalpel, forceps (essentially tweezers), and probes.

Get ready for dissection

One item, in particular that I remember, was called a “blunt probe.” Yes, before the alien jokes start, let me just state that a blunt probe is a stainless steel long, thin device (length is similar to a pencil) that has a rounded (blunt) tip at the end. It’s used to separate tissues without damaging them — and you’ll need it for dissection.

Because it’s time to dissect your business! (I did have a point to this walk down “memory lab,” after all.) I’m not recommending you euthanize your business (although — well, let’s address that some other time), but have you actually taken the time to look at ALL the aspects of your current business?

It helps to “deconstruct” your business from the ground up, to take a look at what’s WORKING, and what’s not working. You might take a “blunt probe” and separate the facets of your company to determine if everything is working together as a system — as it should.

And it’s important to look at every single aspect of your venture, IF you want it to progress. Depending on the type of business you have, look at your research and development, your scale-up, your manufacturing, your packaging, your shipping (or maybe just your consulting practices, methodologies, data sources, report composition, etc.).

It’s often not pleasant to take a critical look at our work (and ourselves). We’d like to avoid a heavy critique and we get personally attached to our ideas. I was determined to avoid taking a critical look at myself earlier in my career. In fact, I used to say, “The term ‘constructive criticism’ is an oxymoron — all criticism is destructive!”

But I later learned that definitely wasn’t true. In fact, most people who were offering up a different approach from what I was doing were people who were simply trying to help me. I just didn’t know how to take that help, how to absorb it and make positive changes, until I got older (and hopefully wiser).

I also didn’t understand that I needed to apply that constructive criticism to my ENTIRE effort — every facet of my business and my life — until I actually did dissect everything. Only then did I see that small adjustments in different places could make a huge improvement.

Often, as I’ve said before, it’s all in how you say it. For instance, I had a fantastic dance instructor (yes, I love ballroom dancing) who, when I made a bad/poor step/move, used to say, “Well, that’s one way of doing this dance. Let’s look at another way!”

He also said, “I’ve never seen that variation before. That’s interesting! Let’s see if we do the standard basic step and then we’ll work on those fancy steps!” I loved that — and I learned a lot from him while maintaining a positive attitude. (I do a mean tango, if I do say so myself!) He could be “constructive” while still critiquing my efforts, and it made me want to change. It made me want to do better!

So, back to your dissection of your business. Are you addressing what should be done in product development? Are you devoting adequate resources to marketing? Have you truly explored changing your sales approach?

As the nursing students found out in anatomy when dissecting their rat, every single system had to function appropriately to keep the rat alive and healthy. The design of the rat may not have been perfect (wow, did those teeth ever grow fast!), but the key was to understand that all those systems had to work together properly.

The same goes for your business. Every system/process/job effort has to function optimally to keep your business healthy. The failure of any part of your business could be fatal to your entire efforts.

Don’t be afraid to dissect your business plan, your business model, and your actual business — whether your business is still alive and functioning, or whether it has failed and you’re doing a “post-mortem evaluation.”

Dissect carefully. It will tell you where you need to improve, what potential you have for success and/or where a system went wrong and caused failure. Be as introspective as you can, even if you did fail.

And if you failed, well, rats!

If you’d like a tool to use when “dissecting” your business, I have created the perfect one. I call it the “Business Continuity Evaluation Form,” and it guides you through the process. To get your copy, simply provide your contact information here, and I’ll send it your way.

Mark S Long has long experienced the intricacies of business incubation, acceleration, coworking spaces, makerspaces and other entrepreneurial assistance venues. UF Innovate supports an innovation ecosystem that moves research discoveries from the lab to the market, making the world a better place.

Originally published at https://incubatorblogger.wordpress.com on June 15, 2021.

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