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What lessons can organisational culture take from nature?

October 11, 2012

Business is on the cusp of a paradigm shift, moving from structures and hierarchies to networks and webs. Insights from nature can act as inspiration for this transition.

Thinking in terms of systems is difficult, but it is vital to operating successfully in the increasingly interconnected and uncertain business world. Observations from nature, which is made up complex systems, can yield important lessons.

The concept of emergence is fundamental to how nature operates. Physicist and systems theorist, Fritjof Capra, noted that: “Throughout the living world, the creativity of life expresses itself through the process of emergence.”

Emergence is a term used to explain how complex patterns or systems emerge from a series of simple interactions. Emergent systems create synergy, where the individual components interrelate and lead to the creation of a whole that is greater than the the sum of its parts. In nature this synergy leads to the growth of ecosystems. Humans also display emergent behaviour, from stock-market trends to online interactivity.

Take the soil beneath our feet as an example. It is alive with networking, interconnecting, diverse life; it breaks down matter to create new growth. Soil can be likened to organisational culture. From a rich culture, employee enthusiasm thrives. Like soil, over-exploitation through short-term, KPI-focused approaches erode this richness that is so important to growing a resilient, vibrant business.

Woven within healthy soil are mycelia (networks of fungi threads), which connect plants with each other to share nutrients and encourage diversity within the ecosystem. Artificial fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides cause mycelia to retreat and the soil to lose a key part of its vibrancy. In the same way that soil can be likened to organisational culture, mycelium networks can be likened to effective communication, collaboration and networking that transcend organisational silos and boundaries. It is the power of these networks that drives business adaptation.

The full length and original article done by Giles Hutchins for The Guardian Sustainable Business blog can be viewed here.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 16, 2012 9:54 pm

    I am a social entrepreneur with a mission of building a web of webs. The vision is to transform businesses and communities to thrive in a sustainable world. If interested in learning more, please connect at Amy Masreliez, Cheers!

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