Organisational Ecology and the Quest for Sustainability

I’m standing at a table on the top of the World.  To be specific at the Ku de Ta bar on the 57th Floor of the Marina Bay Skypark.  Of course one can still go higher… there’s a private members section and other barriers to suggest you’ve still got higher to fly until you’re at the top your game.  How do I feel about this?  I am really ambiguous.  This is a most beautiful place.  If you’re ugly, but rich, you can come in too.  But what about the poor?  No way… and I think there should be a way.  I can vividly remember the days when a McDonalds was a treat for Julie, Me and the Kids.  Wow!  That was another lifetime.

Am I happier on top of the World?  Actually, I am.  I enjoyed the simple pleasures of a small gift for Christmas (typically a new set of strings for my 12-String Guitar), and the ‘special’ nature of a family moment in McDonalds… but we must as a species and as individuals, develop, mature, grow, and evolve.

The key, then, is to evolve in a sustainable way.  I was musing on the fact that I am a biped.  I require both feet to work together to maintain forward momentum.  For me, each step forward is driven by “Creativity”.  This is when I am happiest, being creative, making headway.  This would, however, be an ugly hopping movement without the back-up of my left-foot: sustainability.  My left-foot consolidates the progress of the right-foot, and allows the right to stride forward again.

Imust press on to new pastures, but I cannot do this without managing the pastures I’ve already cultivated.  And, to do this in a balanced way, we can look to Ecology as a model of how to sustain progress.  The first insight is to realise that nothing and no-one exists in isolation.  We are all connected – like it or (most likely) not!  This means that our actions (to mix metaphors in my cognitive cocktail) impact others – like a drop of rain on surface of a lake.

My ripples have not always been helpful.  This too  is a lesson in Ecology.  We must seek balance.  Indeed, in Organisations, too often people don’t leave a job but rather leave a manager – someone whose ripples are not pleasant.  There is a better way.

The second lesson is that Nature, in any Eco-System, tries three models: the parasite, the host, the symbiont.  Only one of the three is sustainable – the symbiont.  Business is full of parasites.  Usually they are discovered (often too late), and the cycle of host maintaining parasite continues.  This can be as mundane as the office bully going unchallenged, right through to whole industries profiting at great cost to their host victims.  Governments can all too easily slip into this trap.  My personal belief that if there is no obvious return on my tax paid, the tax collected is tantamount to theft.  This is why democracies must always challenge their leaders.  Accountability is a part of the ecological model.

Symbiosis is the win-win collaborative style of the Natural World.  Lichen is a classic example – a plant and a fungus living together in harmonious diversity.  The plant gathers energy from the Sun in a way that the fungus cannot.  The fungus gathers and releases water in a way that is beyond the abilities of the plant.  They don’t compete, yet together, they are better – true synergy.  What a wonderful model for marriage as well as less lofty ideals such as team-working.

So, can we evolve?  I think choice is the mechanism for rapid social evolution.  I can choose to collaborate.  I can choose to contribute.  I can choose to pursue balance.  Only these pathways offer sustainability and long-term hope.

In future blogs, I will explore more the liberating concept of Organisational Ecology… until then, join my musing.  How are you a part of your environment in which you live and move and have your being?  How are you delivering win-win solutions, collaboratively?  How are you evolving?

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