BCG Henderson Institute

The Naskapi, a nomadic people indigenous to Quebec and Labrador, hunted most of their food. You might expect, then, that much analyzing and strategizing went into the crucial decision of where to hunt: The Naskapi might have recorded how many moose or caribou they hunted to ensure they did not overexploit their hunting grounds; they might have made systematic plans to regularly explore new regions to discover new herds; or they might have tried to predict the likelihood of finding particular herds in different landscapes, like valleys, hills, or along rivers.

Instead, the tribe, along with many other ancient peoples, relied on divination. In the case of the Naskapi, this consisted of heating up the shoulder blade of a dead animal to the point where it cracked. They started their hunt in the direction to which the crack pointed.

This ritual will strike most people as superstitious and arbitrary, effectively making their strategic decision random. But that was precisely the point. The randomness of the process enabled the Naskapi to tackle the complex problem of choosing where to hunt quickly, without bias and without becoming predictable to their prey. As a result they avoided spending too much time and effort in the search for the ideal hunting ground and survived in the hostile, sub-arctic for hundreds of years.

This seemingly implausible link between the Naskapis’ divination practices and their ability to thrive in a harsh environment can be extended into a business context. We’ll look at how people are currently leveraging randomization to make operational decisions and discuss how applying this approach to strategy might enable businesses to thrive much as the Naskapi did. We’ll conclude by offering tips on how companies can introduce randomness into their strategic decision-making process.

  • Martin Reeves

    Chairman, BCG Henderson Institute

  • Mihnea Moldoveanu

    Professor and Vice Dean of Learning and Innovation at Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

  • Adam Job

    Director, Strategy Lab

Sources & Notes