28 May 2019
Turning Point: Into the Wild
Alexandra Morehouse (MBA 1984)Topics:
In 1992, my husband and I were staying at a game preserve in Kenya as part of our honeymoon. I’m an experienced equestrian, and one morning I decided to go for a ride alone on one of our host’s horses. It was a beautiful day, and as I rode I began to see all kinds of wildlife—impalas, dik-diks, wildebeests, giraffes. I got closer to the game on horseback than I ever could have in a vehicle because, to the wildlife, you’re basically another strange four-legged creature. Then I saw a herd of 40 or 50 zebra grazing under some acacia trees. I knew I was pushing it, but I circled around until I was under the umbrella of trees too.
When they’re alarmed, zebras actually bark, which is what the herd leader did next. I thought they would run in the opposite direction, but instead they ran toward me, which caused my horse—which is a herd animal, after all—to bolt. It was a terrifying moment, but it was also the most alive and elated I have ever felt, being swept up and surrounded by all those thundering hooves. I regained control and fortunately wasn’t hurt. But that experience made me understand in a very visceral way that as humans, we’re not even a comma in this much larger story—and it’s a much more magnificent and exciting saga than we can even begin to conceptualize. As much as we structure our daily lives around professional goals and P&L statements, the universe is so much more mind-boggling and beyond our control than those markers of success. It was a transcendent moment that changed my life.
Since then, I have tried to stay in touch with the wild part of the universe. I’ve led multiple safaris of my own, taking small groups deep into Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa. I’ve served on the board of WildCare, an education and advocacy nonprofit based in San Rafael, California, that cares for injured and orphaned animals, which is how I became involved in rehabilitating and training birds of prey. People have been hunting with falcons for 10,000 years; throughout history, it’s represented a magical, symbiotic balance between humans and a completely wild creature. Relating to wild animals takes you out of your analytical mindset (coming from HBS, your brain is your main tool). Interacting with raptors happens more in your body—you’re constantly reading the environment and the animal’s cues. It forces you to let go of your mental preconceptions and work on an instinctual level.
In the same way, when I’m in a contentious situation at work, I selectively shut out some of the words being spoken and look at body cues. Am I reading fear? Exclusion? Anger? Being able to switch into that mode is very helpful in so many situations, both professional and personal. In that sense, tapping into the wild isn’t just where I get my energy; it’s also a great source of empathy that can make all the difference in my human relationships.
Alexandra Morehouse is the CMO at Banner Health. On a recent trip to see Japan’s famous snow monkeys, she noticed they had facial expressions identical to those she sometimes sees in board meetings.
Class of MBA 1984, Section D