UmiakThe Whale Hunters Story, excerpted from the book Whale Hunting: How to Land Big Sales and Transform Your Company (Wiley, 2008), is a metaphor for the business development strategy and sales process of a modern business. Below is the story that we based our process on. It is a true story of courage, collaboration, and respect.
Click here to see the Business Process Model.

On the far northwest coast of Alaska, Very early in the Spring, before the ice has thawed, before there are more than a few hours of daylight, men and women are sitting in huts lit by whale oil lamps with their extended families, waiting. They have been waiting since the encore of the great northern lights. They have been waiting since they heard the first blast of thawing ice resonate along the coast.

What are they waiting for? Signs that whales are migrating north. The whales begin their journey near Baja, California, swimming north, hugging the coast and migrating to waters north of the village. As they near, the signs of their arrival will become more evident. Soon, the hunt will begin.

This is the process of the whale hunters, honed over generations. It is precision engineered and expertly timed. If the scouts see the whales breaching and spouting, they have waited too long, and the whales will be long gone before they can ready their boat and crew. They must observe the proper signs well in advance; the position of the ice, the shape of a wave, the dolphins, birds, and schools of small fish that migrate ahead of the whales.

News of the whale signs spreads quickly throughout the village. After waiting and preparing all winter, the villagers begin the hunt. The scouts confirm the location of the whales. The harpooner, who is also the captain of the sealskin-covered umiak, readies his boat. After the crew and villagers assemble, the boat is launched, and the whale hunters begin their pursuit. The harpooner sits at the bow, directing the boat. Behind the harpooner are six oarsmen followed by the shaman, whose job is to make certain that every time-tested ritual is observed. Once the whales have been spotted, the journey, lasting anywhere between two and six weeks, begins. The oarsmen pull the boat as close as they can to this 60-foot beast, weighing nearly a ton per foot.

At just the right moment, the harpooner thrusts the harpoon deep into the whale, penetrating the thick layers of blubber. The whale hunting team may ride the whale for days, maneuvering in and out of dangerous ice-floes, through fog, darkness, and relentless cold, until the whale is exhausted. The whale hunters’ village stirs immediately when the scouts bring news of the boat and whale being brought in by the tides. Each village member, who has a different tradition-defined role in the harvesting process, stops working and rushes along the coast. Once the whale has been hauled ashore, the work begins. Small children gather the precious whale oil from the skin and blubber, while elder members take the meat and bone. Everything is either used or conserved by the village. Only the head is left untouched. When the harvest is complete, the boat will return the head to the sea, where the village believes the whale will be reborn the following spring.

The indigenous people of the far northwest spent their spring whale hunting. The dangerous hunt demanded tremendous courage, a special boat and tools, and a ritual that ensured the hunters and villagers would be successful. Why did the whale hunters risk their lives . . . ?

They could fish for a meal. Or they could hunt for couple weeks of food. But one whale would feed their entire village for a year!

Click here to see the Business Process Model.

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