Often observing nature can lead to great insights. And sometimes looking at a group of rats can teach you how to build great teams, organisations and human relationships in general. This is the theory of wusel- and structure-rats.
The initial theory came from my mentor and friend Jan Dzulko. He derived it from the learnings of his friend Max Wolf, a well known biologist. Jan calls them conservative and progressive rats. I added a bit of my spin to it and hope you like it 🙂
The biologist Max Wolf identified a gene within rats which divides the rat population into two groups. I call these two groups Structure-Rats and Wusel-Rats. He carried out some experiments involving different food sources to understand their respective behaviors.
Every day the structure-rat walks from one known food source to the next. It routinely – and with low energy drain – harvests all the food for the day. If a food source is dwindling it just continues the known path. This makes the structure rat a very efficient and reliable harvester. It keeps the whole system running and makes sure the population has enough and constant food supply. Some would say: They run the bank.
I derived this term from the german word Wuselratte – pronounced woozel rat. Wuseln can be translated with scurry, teeming and whirling around.
Then there is the wusel rat. The wusel rat runs around like crazy. Left, right, up, down, in every direction. Sometimes it finds already known food spots or it doesn’t find any at all. Occasionally however, it discovers new food sources, which location they then share with the rest of the population. Wusel rats are the discoverers, they’re slightly chaotic and they bring innovation by being creative and finding new paths and approaches. Wusel rats change the bank.
Combining Wusel and Structure
It turns out that the most successful populations in nature are those combing and having the write mix of wusel and structure rats. This is true for many animal species as it is for humans. And it makes sense.
Every person has some wusel and structure in him or herself, but it’s very hard – to impossible – to be very strong in both characteristics. No one person can be perfect, but a team can!
Wusel and structure rats live with a certain tension and friction between each other. By definition they have different approaches of achieving their goals. The resulting energy from this frictions not only generates new ideas but also allows to efficiently execute them. When each rat accepts the respective other style and knows who is fulfilling which role the team is ready for greatness.
Depending on the problem or use case at hand you might need a different mix ratio between them.
Wusel and Structure on every Level
Once you are aware of the wusel and structure rats theory you’ll see them everywhere. At least that’s the case for me. I’ve seen these traits within single persons, in romantic relationships and in business contexts.
In every company I’ve worked up to now the founders team consisted from a wusel and a structure rat. Max and Jonas at Eclipsesource, Henner and Ecki at Check24 and currently Paul and Marco at audibene / hear.com. This can’t be a coincident. I strongly believe that this kind of rat pairing leads to success.
The theory even holds with larger organisations. Compare corporates and startups. First being optimized for efficiency and scale, but caught in its own structure and having a hard time being innovative. The latter, slightly chaotic and the source of all new.
Wusel and structure is everywhere. Together they form great teams.
Discovering this theory was quite important for myself. I am an ambitious wusel rat and for a long time not aware of that. Compared to my peers I felt less disciplined and had a hard time trying to structure myself more. I was acting against my inner workings. Once I’ve recognized that the wusel has a great value in itself I became far more relaxed and focused on improving this strength. Now I am structured – structured in wuseling around – generating tons of new ideas and approaches 🙂