Myth #2

The cheetah is the natural embodiment of Lean


February 2019


A mean, lean killing machine and the king of the sunbathed savanna. The cheetah is all muscles, no body fat and the fastest predator on land. Its efficiency is legendary, and it is the symbol of speed and power. All these qualities make it an ideal icon for Lean. Or does it?

Most of the above is certainly true. The cheetah is fast and a fearsome predator. But not necessarily for the reasons you might think. First of all, muscles have very little to do with the speed of the cheetah. It is rather weak compared to other big cats. Instead, it is almost custom-built to do the job, just like a well-done Lean assignment, I would imagine.

Instead, it is all in the leg proportions, the body length and in conservation of energy during sprinting. That is rather important to know if you were to try to apply the virtues of a cheetah to yourself in the hope of becoming The Flash. If you think that just adding extra muscle is the key, you will be very disappointed. Instead of becoming the fastest person alive, you will become a heavy squat lump of meat. It makes sense, too. Muscles are heavy, and heavy is slow. Wrong assumptions are never efficient.

So instead, what you need to do is copy the body frame of the cheetah, which means that you must accept that your nostrils will be very enlarged, your thighs short and thick while your shins are long and very skinny with sturdy black nails. You walk as a very long-bodied humpback to achieve the spring effect of the spine, and you no longer look human, but you are certainly very fast. Alas, only for a short period and only few times a day.

Furthermore, the cheetah can only be a cheetah if it is allowed to be one. Mismanagement always brings troubles, and 80% of all captive cheetahs suffer from gastritis, obesity and hepatitis. All due to nutrition mistakes from zookeepers. And a fat cheetah runs nowhere. Knowledge is the key to efficiency.

On other levels, however, the cheetah seems like a superb natural model for Lean. Its power comes from efficient use of energy while running, never running without sight of a reasonable success, no excessive weight, a gift for knowing when to attack and a remarkable self-discipline. Nothing disturbs a focused cheetah.

So, what can you learn from the cheetah? Should you try to make a business like a cheetah, you must first know what that means – and then be prepared to make some severe changes. You must go all the way. So maybe you should consider another animal instead – jellyfish have a lot going for them.

Anders Kofoed

This article is written by biologist Anders Kofoed, who speaks and writes about nature and animals. He is among others author of the book "100 myter om dyr" (100 myths about aanimals). Anders is also known from TV2 “Kofoed og dyrerne”. Anders has inspired us writing our myths on Lean. 

Visit Ander Kofoed's blog here (in Danish).