The economic, social and environmental volatility now facing business means that organisations are having to operate in a dynamically transforming landscape.
The nature of change itself is transforming! Organisations are increasingly exposed to dynamic change: change upon change upon change – while dealing with one change, another affects us, then another, and so on. This dynamic change upsets the traditional mechanistic business paradigm we have been working to over the last few decades.
Inspiration for the current pressing challenges is all around us in nature. Nature has been dealing with dynamic change for over 3.8bn years, and the more we explore nature’s ways the more we find inspiration for operating in a dynamically changing business environment.
Our understanding of nature has evolved over the last few decades, from viewing it as a battleground of competition to one of dynamic non-equilibrium, where an order within chaos prevails due to unwritten natural patterns, feedback loops, behavioural qualities, interdependencies and collaboration within and throughout ecosystems. The more we grapple with the challenges our businesses now face, the more we realise that nature’s patterns and qualities inspire approaches and qualities for our own evolutionary success in business and beyond.
Organisations inspired by nature are resilient, optimising, adaptive, systems-based, values-based, and life-supporting. Let’s explore these principles.
The more resilient an organisation is, the more able it is to deal successfully with disturbances and volatility. ‘Resilience’ is fast becoming the holy grail for businesses in these volatile times.
The more diverse, decentralised and distributed a business ecosystem, the more able it is to seek out opportunities and capitalise upon a changing business landscape.
UK brewery Adnams recently shifted their focus from a few product lines and customers to increasing the diversity of products and their customer base. The shift towards a greater variety of products and customers led to investment in adjacent markets. During this business transformation, Adnams also invested in its employees, ensuring they became more empowered to make decisions locally, reducing the need for overly burdensome centralised management. These changes have significantly increased Adnams resilience, leaving them far better equipped to deal with market volatility and seek out new opportunities.
Whilst maximisation brings benefit of economies of scale through lower unit cost of production, in nature optimisation through economies of scope brings different benefits through improved cross-fertilisation and species interaction (akin to improved interactivity across traditional department and organisational boundaries). Maximisation is driven through homogenising, scaling up, atomising, industrialising and reducing complexities within a specific business function, system or process; optimisation is driven through enhanced connections, interactivity and interdependencies across different business functions, systems or processes.
In nature, economies of scope are fundamental for adaptation and survival as it is species that have multiple synergistic interconnections within their ecosystem that co-create resilient ecosystems more able to survive dynamic change.
In the words of Charles Darwin “it is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most able to adapt to change”.
Unilever is undertaking significant adaptation across its business not just in the way it sources, produces and distributes products but also in the way it engages stakeholders across its entire business ecosystem. It is adapting its approach to business to become fit for purpose for the environment that it operates in.
General Electric is another good example of a company that is adapting and transforming its business strategy towards products and services that enhance the sustainability and long-term value of its customers and wider stakeholder community.