Zulu Principle

African maskZulus, as the world knows, were fierce warriors from southern Africa. They fought valiantly against the British, before being defeated by a force that was better armed and trained.

Undoubtedly, this proud race of people who were dominant in southern Africa before the arrival of the white man on the continent,  subscribed to some principles, which held their people together. What were these principles, might be of interest to some, though not all of us.

But this post is not about the Zulus or their principles. Rather, it is about specialising. The term ‘Zulu Principle‘ was coined by Jim Slater, an investment banker who first shot to fame as the sponsor of the 1972 World Chess Championship chess match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, held in Raykjavik, Iceland.

Slater subsequently published a book articulating his approach to investing and called it The Zulu Principle. According to him, the idea of the name occurred to him when he found that his wife knew more than he did about the Zulus, after reading a four page article in the Reader’s Digest on the subject. It struck him that

“if she had then borrowed all the available books on Zulus from the local library, she would have become the leading expert in the county. If she has subsequently been invited to stay on a Zulu kraal (by an unsuspecting chief) and read about the history of Zulus at Johannesburg University for another six months, she would have become one of the leading experts in the world.”

What Slater suggests in his book is that a small investor focuses on or specialises in a particular sector or company, especially if it is neglected or out of favor with the market. This will give the small investor a competitive advantage over other larger players in the market, who will take much longer to assimilate and factor in news that affects the sector or company.

Whilst there is no gainsaying the  utility of this approach to investing, particularly for a small investor with limited funds at his disposal, I believe that it has universal applicability. Particularly in situations involving a career or a hobby or interest.

Zulu Principle
Zulu Principle

For example, in almost any organization there are some jobs that are considered glamorous because of the high visibility or perks. But the competition for these posts is intense, with the high fliers jostling for the limelight. Simultaneously, the price of failure is very high.

On the other hand, there are certain jobs that are not so exciting or glamorous. For someone who is not a high flier, per se, it may make sense to voluntarily opt for such a low profile job and master the nuances of it. So that, in course of time, a situation evolves when others beat a path to the door of the expert.

I have observed the benefit of this approach and can vouch for its efficacy in real life. A friend of mine who was a middle- level executive in a nationalized insurance company was being recruited by one of the new private sector insurers.

At the interview he was offered a job which also involved marketing. Wisely, he declined as he did not have a flair for marketing. Instead, he opted for a job as an underwriter, which involved fixing of the rates and terms of the insurance and where he leveraged his strengths. This despite the fact that the marketing job offered a better compensation package.

When I last met him he had been promoted and was transferred to the head office of the company in a very senior position. I believe that unknowingly, he had applied the Zulu Principle and landed on his feet.

As you look around, you will see the Zulu Principle being applied, consciously or unconsciously, in so many different areas. For example, Sachin Tendulkar is now concentrating only on Test cricket in an attempt to prolong his career. In a similar vein, there are many examples of aspiring actors or models who, realising that intensity of the competition to be in front of the camera,  have transitioned to roles behind the camera, with great success. Even in the world of blogging, the Zulu principle is widely applied.

As blogger don’t we all specialise in some genre of blogs? For one, it may be humour. For another, it may be food. And for a third it may be travel. Or maybe, just photos. Some even write only for competitions, irrespective of the topic. The list is endless.

Actually,  even in this Blogging From A to Z April Challenge, some of us have used the Zulu Principle. We have formed this sub-group of bloggers who, for the period of this challenge,  have committed to following and commenting on each others blogs. In this manner, we have focused our attention on just a few blogs and in the process made new friends.

For Corinne and me, this challenge was fun, though a bit strenuous.  Of course, we really can’t complain because we had Pablo to assist us by pitching in with a few posts. 😉

Today we’re on Z of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.

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35 Comments

  1. janu

    Well, being a bit dense about investment and finance, the Zulu principle went just above my head. But, I liked your summation. The three of you did a very good job with the challenge.

  2. Learnt something new today. From Zulu tribe,to the wife who knew a lot about Zulu,to finance , to Zulu principle in life and finally to blogging..as Janaki said ,you summed it up so well. The challenge has come to a full stop too but I do not see it as the end of a sentence :). I loved every bit of it. Hope you continue to write regularly,it has been a pleasure reading you and Pablo. Corinne has been one of my favourite bloggers for a while now and she knows it 🙂

  3. Roshni

    Very, very interesting! I suppose for bloggers, it would be the niche blogger, who blogs about something not very mainstream but which nevertheless would have a specialized focus and a core following, who would be applying the Zulu principle! It is getting harder to find something like that though!

    • Unless you are some super star blogger who will be followed even if he sprouts rot, every other blogger need some niche. Otherwise, you don’t get traffic. I agree that finding the right niche is getting harder. But then there are so many blogger, using all sorts of SEOs.

  4. Kajal

    Great information on the Zulu principle. Great way of summing it up in the end by describing how we have applied the principle in this challenge. Thanks for all your support!

  5. Oh yes.. you had the assitance of Pablo 😛 😛 😛 😀

    That was a great post… Zulu Principle can be found in almost everyone’s life… I guess its almost a way of living that has been identified 🙂

  6. I am not sure if I ever succeeded in applying Zulu unintentionally but I believe even applying it needs focus and lot of effort 🙂 Anyway reading all posts by U , Jose and Pablo was fun !
    Challenge has come to end but hoping we all stay in touch
    GOOD DAY!

  7. I hadn’t heard of the Zulu principle so learned something new today. But more than that I’ve enjoyed your posts and Pablo’s of course. I will be visiting regularly. And to Corinne – a big thank you for holding this group together – yep the Zulu principle works.

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